A Javier Ambler mural of the Southern Congress (Photo by Jana Birchum)
Two years ago, JJ Johnson and Zach Camden were among the Williamson County Sheriff’s Deputies featured on the much-loved reality show Live DP. Their boss, former sheriff Robert Chody, brought the show to Williamson County and regularly promoted it on social media as a recruiting tool, he said, though he also enjoyed the TV spotlight. County commissioners attempted to void the contract with the show, which Chody ignored, leading to him being sued by his own county government. But then it was revealed that Javier Ambleran unarmed black man with heart disease, had died after being chased in Travis County by Johnson and Camden and the Live DP cameras, then fired a stun gun four times as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe,” and the cameras rolled.
“The police are not entertainment.” – State Representative James Talarico on HB 54
Now, Live DP is canceled; Chody lost a re-election bid; he, Johnson and Camden await felony trial; and state representative. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, is pushing a bill through the Texas Legislature to ban state and local law enforcement from contracting with reality TV shows. by Talarico House Bill 54known as “Javier Ambler’s Law“, cleared the entire House in a vote of 110 to 34 on April 15 and now awaits action in the Senate.
“Police are not entertainment,” Talarico said. “In the tragic murder of Javier Ambler, we saw what happens when law enforcement officials are more interested in boosting their ratings than protecting our communities.”
Ambler’s death occurred in March 2019 and received no public attention until Austin American Statesman and KVUE journalist Tony Plohetsky was able to force Chody to release information through public information requests a year later. His detailed account of Ambler’s death came out in June 2020, as Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality erupted across the country.
A few days after the story was published, Live DP – already on hiatus after the death of George Floyd – was removed for good, but Johnson and Camden had been cleared in an internal investigation, with Chody praising their professionalism. the Live DP Video of Ambler’s death was destroyed after Chody told the show’s producers the investigation was complete, but body worn camera video from Austin police who arrived on the scene places captured Ambler’s final moments. In September 2020, Chody and his General Counsel Jason Nassour were indicted by a Williamson County grand jury for tampering with evidence.
Travis County District Attorney jose garza, who, in his successful campaign to overthrow incumbent Margaret Moore, promised he would take Ambler’s case to a grand jury, won the indictments of Johnson and Camden for manslaughter, and Chody and Nassour for the same charges of tampering with evidence, in March. Johnson and Camden face 20 years in prison; Chody and Nassour face 10.
Ambler’s parents, Javier Sr. and Maritza, are suing the four men, as well as the city of Austin, for their son’s death. They expressed their gratitude to the prosecutor’s office earlier this month after the indictments were handed down. “We sincerely thank Mr. Garza and his team, and hope they can secure a conviction,” said Ambler Sr. “Our goal has always been to hold these officers accountable so that there are no more families who suffer like ours.”
A version of this article was published on April 23, 2021 with the title: Javier Ambler’s law clears Texas House