Two former Texas sheriff’s deputies are facing manslaughter charges in the death of a Black man following a car chase where authorities were accompanied by a reality television camera crew.
Javier Ambler was followed by Williamson County deputies for over 20 minutes on March 28, 2019, ending in the city of Austin, where Ambler was restrained and tased at least three times, body camera footage previously released by Austin police and seen by NBC News showed. Deputies began chasing Ambler because he failed to dim his headlights for oncoming traffic, according to a police report.
The A&E reality television show “Live PD” was filming sheriff’s deputies when the pursuit began.
A grand jury indicted deputies James Johnson and Zachary Camden on one count of second-degree manslaughter each in Ambler’s death, Travis County District Attorney José Garza announced Tuesday.
“With these indictments, we have taken another critical step towards justice for the Ambler family and for our community,” Garza said. “While we can never take away the pain of the Ambler family, the grand jury has sent a clear message that no one is above the law.”
Bail for the deputies was set at $150,000 each, and it is unclear if they were in custody Tuesday. Inmate records were not immediately available for either Johnson or Camden.
Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell, attorneys representing both deputies, released a joint statement Tuesday described the indictments as a follow through on a “political talking point” from Garza. The statement also pushed back on characterizations that Ambler was pulled over for failing to dim his headlights but for “felony offense of evading arrest in a vehicle.”
“Mr. Ambler’s physical exertion in resisting the three officers it took to get him into handcuffs no doubt contributed to his medical emergency, but Mr. Johnson and Mr. Camden are neither morally nor legally responsible for his death,” the statement said.
Ambler’s manner of death was declared a homicide, according to a custodial death report filed with the Texas Office of the Attorney General. Ambler died of congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with morbid obesity, in combination with forcible restraint, the report said.
Body camera video from an Austin police officer shows Ambler on the ground with several officers.
“Give me your hands or I’m going to tase you again,” an officer is heard saying in the video. Ambler is also heard telling the deputies he had congestive heart failure.
“I can’t breathe,” Ambler repeatedly said.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Ambler’s family last year alleged that sheriff’s deputies engaged in a reckless chase of Ambler to make entertaining television for “Live PD.”
Former Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody is accused of destroying or concealing audio and video footage that showed his deputies pursuing and using force on Ambler, according to an indictment against him from September. Chody and former Williamson County general counsel Jason Nassour were indicted on a felony evidence tampering charge.
Chody characterized the charge against him as politically motivated following his release on bond in September.
Hannah Rappleye contributed.