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Newly Released Body Cam Video Shows Deputies Tasing Man Who Said ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Before He Died


[Warning: The video is disturbing.]

Newly released video from Texas shows the disturbing end of a chase from last year. It depicts 40-year-old Javier Ambler telling deputies he couldn’t breathe, and that he had congestive heart failure. Officials tased him four times, according to The Austin American-StatesmanHe died, and it was later ruled a homicide. A report filed with state attorney general’s office on Ambler’s in-custody death suggested the homicide may have been “justifiable.”

The incident was filmed by a crew from the reality show Live PD. The footage never aired. [Disclosure: Law&Crime is owned in part by A&E. Founder Dan Abrams is the host of Live PD.]

The chase happened back in the early hours of March 28, 2019, but the video is only surfacing now. As described in the account, Ambler was reportedly driving home from a poker game. The chase began after a Williamson County deputy saw that he did not dim his high beam headlights in the face of oncoming traffic. The driver then led deputies on a high speed pursuit.

Deputy J.J. Johnson was riding with a Live PD crew when he saw Ambler driving with bright lights, according to the report. The officer turned around, and put on the flashing lights of the vehicle. Johnson gave chase after Ambler didn’t stop.

This lasted 22 minutes, crossing over into Travis County and the city of Austin, and Ambler crashed multiple times and then eventually into trees. As seen on video, Johnson approached Ambler at gunpoint, and told him to get out of the vehicle, put up his hands, and get on the ground. The deputy holstered his firearm, took out a Taser, and ordered Ambler to get down. An investigative report obtained by the outlet determined that he tased Ambler after the man seemed to be turning toward his car door. The report says when Ambler appeared to try to get up, Johnson ordered him down again and that Ambler did not comply with commands to put his hands behind his back. At that point, back up Deputy Zachary Camden also arrived on the scene and he tased Ambler in the back.

In the video, Ambler tells 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 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.”

“I cry everyday,” his father Javier Ambler Sr. said.

A report with the Texas attorney general’s office determined Ambler didn’t attack deputies, or threaten them although he would’ve likely faced a felony charge for evading arrest.

Travis County officials, including the Austin Police Department, have been investigating the death. District Attorney Margaret Moore told the KVUE there’s been a lack of cooperation from the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office. She also said that she is troubled that the show Live PD, which seemed to have filmed the incident, has not handed over the footage. Though, it has been reported that the show typically doesn’t retain footage after it’s shot.

“It is of very serious concern to any of us who are in law enforcement that the decision to engage in that chase was driven by more of a need to provide entertainment than to keep Williamson County citizens safe,” Moore said. She said she plans on presenting the Ambler case to a grand jury.

The release of the video lands on a cultural fissure: the ongoing national debate over how law enforcement treats people of color, especially black men and women. Ambler was black. So is Johnson. Camden is white.

The argument over police brutality reached a new chapter with the death of Minnesota man George Floyd in police custody: then-officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for minutes, even after he became unresponsive. Prosecutors said this went on for a total of 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Protests emerged nationwide.

In recent times, Williamson County has debated over whether to maintain a relationship with Live PD. The previous contract with show producer Big Fish Entertainment expired in May 2019. Officials at first wanted to keep negotiating for a new one, but the County Commissioners Court voted last August to end the agreement. Sheriff Chody announced in April that the show was coming back to the area.

Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody declined to comment in the American-Statesman article, citing the ongoing investigation.

Update – June 9, 2020, 8:22 p.m.: A&E responded to a Law&Crime request for comment. They said that “Contrary to many incorrect reports, neither A&E nor the producers of Live PD were asked for the footage or an interview by investigators from law enforcement or the District Attorney’s office.”

Their statement:

Video of the tragic death of Javier Ambler was captured by body cams worn on the officers involved as well by the producers of Live PD who were riding with certain officers involved. The incident did not occur while Live PD was on the air but rather during the show’s hiatus, when producers are regularly out in the field gathering footage. The footage never aired on Live PD per A&E’s standards and practices because it involved a fatality. Immediately after the incident, the Austin Police Department conducted an investigation using the body cam footage they had from the officers. Contrary to many incorrect reports, neither A&E nor the producers of Live PD were asked for the footage or an interview by investigators from law enforcement or the District Attorney’s office. As is the case with all footage taken by Live PD producers, we no longer retained the unaired footage after learning that the investigation had concluded. As with all calls we follow, we are not there to be an arm of the police or law enforcement but rather to chronicle what they do and air some of that footage and our policies were in place to avoid having footage used by law enforcement against private citizens.

[Screengrab via Austin American-Statesman]

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