[Warning: Footage is disturbing]
The production company behind canceled A&E show Live PD has sued the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, the Austin Police Department, and law enforcement officers over footage surrounding the death of Javier Ambler. In a lawsuit filed Friday, plaintiffs said they were unfairly thrown under the bus.
“While the brief but wrongful taking of its cameras and footage by WCSO and APD caused Big Fish actual damage and clearly violated the law, that is not the only damage Big Fish has suffered as a result of WCSO and APD’s erroneous view that they controlled and had immediate rightful access to Big Fish’s footage,” stated the complaint. “WCSO and APD’s taking on March 28, 2019 was only the beginning of the harm Big Fish suffered. The illegal seizure of its footage was premised on the false foundation that WCSO somehow owned or controlled Big Fish’s footage, and a year later this same false narrative was used to fuel a public campaign that vilified Big Fish and caused it untold economic damage and reputational harm.”
Live PD producers and cameras were there when Williamson County deputies followed Ambler on a chase on March 28, 2019, crossing over into Travis County. It started after the man allegedly had not dimmed his high beam headlights in the face of oncoming traffic. It ended after 22 minutes when Ambler crashed into trees. He was tased.
In the video, Ambler told authorities that he was trying to comply with their orders, that he wasn’t resisting, and that he couldn’t breathe. He eventually became unresponsive, and remained that way even when authorities performed CPR.
“I have congestive heart failure,” Ambler had said. “I can’t breathe.”
An autopsy determined he died from congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease linked to morbid obesity in connection to the “forcible restraint.” It was ruled a homicide, but a report to the state attorney general’s office said that it could have been “justifiable.”
Publication of the footage by local outlets The Austin American-Statesman and KVUE happened shortly after the death of Minnesota man George Floyd in police custody. That Minneapolis incident fueled a still ongoing national debate over how law enforcement treats people of color, especially Black men like him and Ambler. A&E canceled Live PD.
The show never aired the footage. The new lawsuit asserts that the chase involving Ambler was caught by dash cam footage and Austin Police Department body cam. In their complaint, Big Fish Entertainment said law enforcement never even issued a subpoena for the Ambler footage shortly after the man’s death. Authorities only made a big deal about it in June 2020, throwing the company under the bus amid public outcry by suggesting Big Fish was standing in the way of the investigation, according to the complaint.
“There is no justification for the authorities’ violation of the PPA and the constitutional rights of Big Fish and those of its journalists,” the complaint stated. “No law enforcement authority ever suggested to the Live PD production crew that they had footage of a criminal act. Nor did Williamson County or Travis County officers even ask to interview the Live PD production crew on the scene or in the months that followed. Indeed, no substantive effort to investigate Mr. Ambler’s death was undertaken until the public demanded some action, over a year after his death occurred. Williamson County and Travis County’s response was to deflect blame for their own inexcusable inaction by falsely claiming their efforts were impeded by Big Fish.”
Tammy Alexander, the sheriff’s executive assistant, told Law&Crime that they are not able to comment about matters under litigation.
The Austin Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Disclosure: Law&Crime is owned in part by A&E; Law&Crime founder Dan Abrams was the host of Live PD.
Update – March 29, 2:23 p.m.: The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office returned a Law&Crime request for comment.
[Screengrab via Austin American-Statesman; it depicts Ambler telling officers he had congestive heart failure]
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