A Texas sheriff has been charged with tampering with evidence in the case of Black man whose death while in police custody was caught on camera by the controversial reality TV show Live PD.
A Williamson County grand jury on Monday indicted Sheriff Robert Chody for allegedly destroying or concealing the Live PD footage showing the arrest and death of Javier Ambler, a 40-year-old Black man who was tased by authorities four times in March 2019. Former Williamson County general counsel Jason Nassour was also indicted on a felony evidence tampering charge for destroying recordings “with intent to impair their ability as evidence” in the investigation.
“We believe that there are facts supporting tampering in Travis County as well…the reason [Williamson County] has to come first is because the Live PD video would be holding material to the investigation and to the use of force,” said Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, who opened a joint investigation with Williams County District Attorney Shawn Dick after reports revealed that Live PD had destroyed the footage of Ambler’s death.
Chody, who was held in Williamson County Jail before being released on a $10,000 bond, denied the allegations during his own press conference—and accused authorities of a politically motivated prosecution.
“I did not tamper with evidence,” Chody said, stating the charge was “engineered” by Dick, who is “pushing misleading stories while pursuing false prosecution.”
In July, The Daily Beast exclusively reported that police regularly asked the now-canceled A&E show Live PD to edit out officers using violence or questionable language, including one incident in which deputies forcefully pulled a woman out of her Washington state home and another in which officers in Louisiana allegedly called a Black man “boy.”
“It’s always sold as transparency, and it’s the furthest thing from transparent,” Dick said of the show to the Beast at the time. “Just be honest about it. It’s for entertainment. It is edited. It is carefully selected.”
Authorities say on March 28, 2019, two Williamson County sheriff’s deputies—James Johnson and Zach Camden—were pursuing Ambler, a former postal worker, after he allegedly failed to dim his headlights amid oncoming traffic. A 22-minute car chase ensued that was captured on police body cameras. The chase—which involved multiple car crashes—ended in Austin, where the two deputies restrained Ambler. The 40-year-old died after being handcuffed, tased four times, and pushed to the ground by deputies, body-camera footage from an Austin officer showed.
Before he lost consciousness, authorities say Ambler told the deputies he had a heart condition and couldn’t breathe. According to a custodial death report filed by the Texas Attorney General’s office, Ambler died of congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with morbid obesity—in combination with forcible restraint. His death was ultimately ruled a homicide.
The encounter was also captured in the footage recorded by Live PD crews—who were following Johnson and Camden as they pursued Ambler—but those video files were ultimately destroyed. The A&E show later said they kept them for three months pending a sheriff’s investigation into the incid—and deleted them once it was complete.
An internal Williamson County investigation ultimately cleared the two deputies involved in the March innocent of wrongdoing—though they are still under investigation by Austin police and Travis County prosecutors. On Monday, Moore stressed that the deleted video footage is “critical evidence” to the investigation.
As previously reported by The Daily Beast, Williamson County Sheriff’s Office records show Live PD regularly sent the footage they shot to deputies for their review. The sheriff’s office withheld a significant number of the emails the Beast requested, however, claiming attorney-client privilege.
The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.