Two former Texas deputies have been indicted following an incident in which a Black man repeatedly was tasered and died after a traffic stop as it was filmed for a reality TV show.
Javier Ambler, 40, died March 28, 2019, following a 22-minute chase by Williamson County Sheriff's deputies that allegedly began as a routine traffic stop of a driver for failing to dim headlights for oncoming traffic.
His arrest occurred as cameras were rolling for the A&E network show Live PD, which was canceled weeks after the killing of George Floyd amid widespread protests over police brutality and racism.
When stopped, Ambler was tasered four times, according to body cam footage of the incident, despite telling the officers that he suffered from an underlying health condition.
"Give me your hands or I'm going to tase you again," an officer reportedly says in the footage, which was obtained by TV station KXAN.
"I have congestive heart failure," Ambler, the father of two sons, can be heard saying in the footage. "I can't breathe."
The indictments issued Tuesday by a Travis County grand jury allege former deputies James Johnson, 36, and Zachary Camden, 26, acted recklessly in restraining and tasering Ambler even after Ambler made those statements.
Both were charged with second-degree manslaughter. It was not immediately clear if either was represented by an attorney.
"With these indictments, we have taken another critical step towards justice for the Ambler family and for our community," Travis County District Attorney José Garza said in a statement. "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."
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The body cam footage came not from the Williamson County Sheriff's deputies who arrested Ambler, but from officers with the Austin police department who later arrived on the scene, NBC News reported.
A report filed with the Texas Attorney General's Office said Ambler died by homicide caused by "congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with morbid obesity, in combination with forcible restraint," reported KXAN.
The former Travis County district attorney, Margaret Moore, said last summer that she had to battle the Williamson County Sheriff's office — informally known as Wilco — for access to footage of the arrest.
"What should have been a routine traffic stop, ended with Javier's death," Moore said in a statement via Twitter in June. "For the last year, Wilco has stonewalled our investigation. We planned to take this case before a grand jury in April, but bc of COVID-19 we'll be empaneling this summer. We're taking this case seriously & working to seek justice for Javier & his family."
Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody responded at the time with a statement of his own, saying, "While we cannot comment on the Ambler incident due to the ongoing investigation by the Travis County D.A., we can correct misleading statements made by the Travis County D.A." He said his department "remains ready and willing to participate in the investigation."
"Any attempt to say we have slowed or otherwise impeded the investigation is absolutely false," he said. "We participated fully in the investigation launched by the Austin Police Department, the results of which have been forwarded to the Travis County D.A."
Chody added that his department does not control the Live PD footage, which is the property of A&E.
In a statement, the network said: "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," the statement continued. "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," the statement said.
The Travis County D.A.'s office said the grand jury also heard evidence about Austin police officer Michael Nissen's actions at the scene of Ambler's arrest, but found no reason to bring charges against him.
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