Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Javier Ambler

Remember his name.

Javier Ambler

Javier Ambler was driving home from playing poker on March 28, 2019, when he failed to dim the headlights of his SUV to oncoming traffic.

A Williamson County sheriff’s deputy initiated a stop and began chasing him for the minor traffic violation. After Ambler apparently refused to pull over, a pursuit that lasted 22 minutes and ended when Ambler’s Honda Pilot crashed north of Downtown Austin.

Minutes later, Ambler, a 40-year-old father of two, was dying on a neighborhood street.

Records obtained by the KVUE Defenders and the Austin American-Statesman reveal that deputies used Taser stun guns on him at least three times, even as he told them multiple times that he had a heart condition and could not breathe.

The circumstances of Ambler’s March 28, 2019, death have never been revealed. The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office tried to shield information from release since receiving its first request in February.

Ambler’s death was ruled a homicide, which officials said include “justifiable homicide.” Medical examiners listed his cause of death as congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with morbid obesity “in combination with forcible restraint,” according to an in-custody report filed with the Texas Attorney General’s office. The report included no other details about Ambler’s autopsy, which hasn’t been released, but noted that he did not appear to be intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.

[…]

Plohetski and the KVUE Defenders learned about Ambler’s death in February from frustrated investigators who felt stymied in their quest to understand what happened.

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office sought to keep confidential internal affairs records in the case after a request for information in late February.

On May 18, however, the Texas Attorney General ruled that the agency had no legal grounds to withhold information and ordered that at least some materials be released. Ten days later, the sheriff’s office provided a three-page internal affairs investigative report that found no wrongdoing by deputies.

Plohetski and the KVUE Defenders learned about Ambler’s death in February from frustrated investigators who felt stymied in their quest to understand what happened.

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office sought to keep confidential internal affairs records in the case after a request for information in late February.

On May 18, however, the Texas Attorney General ruled that the agency had no legal grounds to withhold information and ordered that at least some materials be released. Ten days later, the sheriff’s office provided a three-page internal affairs investigative report that found no wrongdoing by deputies.

The deputy chased him for 22 minutes because Javier Ambler had his high beams on. When was the last time you were pulled over for that offense? What possible public safety goal would have been achieved by pursuing and then forcibly subduing Javier Ambler?

More from the Statesman:

The deputies’ decisions to chase and repeatedly use their Tasers on a man who simply failed to dim his lights prompts questions about the agency’s practice of pursuing drivers for minor crimes.

“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,” said Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore.

Some 15 months after Ambler’s death, Moore’s civil rights division is still investigating the incident. After questioning from an American-Statesman reporter, she said her office plans to present the case to a grand jury.

[…]

As Deputy J.J. Johnson, who is regularly featured on “Live PD,” patrolled the quiet suburban roads just north of Austin last March, a film crew rode along with him.

When Ambler passed with his brights on at 1:23 a.m., the deputy turned his car around and flipped on the flashing lights.

Ambler didn’t stop. Johnson gave chase.

For the next 22 minutes, the two vehicles sped across highways and onto neighborhood streets. As he drove, Johnson narrated for the TV crew, telling them what he thought was going on in Ambler’s mind.

As they crossed into Travis County, Austin officers were instructed not to get involved in the pursuit because they are allowed only to chase dangerous criminals.

There’s a long, detailed account of what happened after that. Ambler was tasered four times, and told the deputies that he had congestive heart failure, was unable to breathe, and was trying but unable to comply with the orders they shouted at him, while sitting on top of him. They handcuffed him when he fell unconscious, and only realized a few minutes later that Ambler was not breathing.

You may be wondering, why was there a TV crew with Deputy Johnson?

Investigators say they are disturbed about what happened to Ambler and how the Williamson sheriff’s officials have responded to his death.

They are troubled that deputies went to such extraordinary lengths to capture Ambler for a minor offense. They also have grave concerns about the consequences of having “Live PD” camera crews at the scene.

“Live PD” did not respond to requests for comment on Monday. The footage shot that night has not aired.

In the past three years, more than half of the nearly 100 pursuits initiated by Williamson County deputies were for traffic violations, according to department records.

Chody said Monday that he does not believe the department’s current, more restrictive, pursuit policy was in place during the chase that led to Ambler’s death.

[…]

The case also adds fuel to a yearlong fight between Chody and Williamson County commissioners about his department’s participation in “Live PD.” Chody has said the show offers viewers a first-hand experience of policing, has raised the profile of his agency and is a valuable recruiting tool.

But Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick has said he’s concerned that “Live PD” refuses to provide prosecutors with video footage it collects while on patrol with deputies.

“It is getting very difficult for my prosecutors to uphold their statutory and Constitutional obligations to disclose evidence when prosecuting sheriff’s department cases,” Dick said.

Days after Dick raised those concerns in 2019, Williamson County commissioners ended a contract with the show.

In March of this year, however, filming resumed when Chody signed his own agreement with producers, prompting commissioners to issue a “cease and desist” order to the sheriff’s office.

Chody refused to comply, and in May, the county sued him.

“Sheriff Chody can perform the core duties of sheriff without the live TV show,” the lawsuit said. “But he doesn’t want to. Instead, Sheriff Chody seeks social media and TV exposure like a moth to a light bulb — and he’s flown out of his job description to get back on TV.”

I don’t even know what to say about that. But if you’re thinking that at least there’s video of the whole thing, well

Video filmed by a “Live PD” crew of an in-custody death of a black man last year has been destroyed and can no longer be turned over to Austin investigators, representatives of the reality TV show said Tuesday.

The disclosure by A&E Networks came a day after the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV first reported details of the March 2019 death of Javier Ambler while being arrested by Williamson County sheriff’s deputies in connection with a traffic violation. The Austin American-Statesman is part of the USA TODAY Network.

A&E confirmed Tuesday that “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.”

It said that the incident did not occur while the show was airing live and that the video was not broadcast later.

A&E’s statement said that Austin investigators had not asked for the video or to interview show producers. “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,” the network said in a statement.

[…]

Three of four Williamson County commissioners Tuesday called for Sheriff Robert Chody to resign after learning of Ambler’s death and charges that Chody’s department had failed to provide evidence to Travis County investigators.

“The citizens have lost faith in him,” Williamson County Commissioner Russ Boles said.

The TDP and State Rep. James Talarico have also called for Sheriff Chody’s resignation; I’m sure others will follow. The point here is the same point that so many other people have been making, some for a very long time and others in recent weeks, which is that the death of black Americans at the hands of police officers happens all the damn time, in every state, and that fundamental, root-and-branch change is needed to stop it. It’s not a matter of “bad apples”, it’s the system. CBS News and the Texas Signal have more.

Related Posts:

17 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    Found it:

    “After Ambler apparently refused to pull over, a pursuit that lasted 22 minutes and ended when Ambler’s Honda Pilot crashed north of Downtown Austin.”

    He spent those 22 minutes tryna turn his life around, and was actually driving to start college. True story.

    “The deputy chased him for 22 minutes because Javier Ambler had his high beams on. When was the last time you were pulled over for that offense? What possible public safety goal would have been achieved by pursuing and then forcibly subduing Javier Ambler?”

    Why was it so important to chase Javier down when he refused to pull over?

    A: Because if we don’t chase him down, then nobody would stop for police. I’m driving, a cop flashes his lights at me…..nope, I’m not in the mood for any foolishness from a cop today. I’m busy. I have things to do and I don’t need a ticky tack ticket, so I just won’t stop and the officer will just say “well, I tried, on to the next one.”

    Can we see the problem with this strategy? Think of it as part of the social contract. Don’t leftists constantly harp on “driving is a privilege, not a right” (unless you’re an illegal alien, of course)? Part of the privilege means you have to stop when the cop wants to stop you. That’s just part of the program, and it isn’t optional.

    Beyond that, not dimming high beams is an indicator of impairment. Don’t we all support Mad Mothers and wanting to get drunks off the road? This seems like a legitimate reason for a traffic stop at night.

  2. brad says:

    Bill,

    Yet another obfuscation foul for you Bill. Who said there was no “legitimate reason for a traffic stop at night”?!

    The point, the important point, is that there was no legitimate reason to disregard chase protocols, ignore a human’s pleas, ignore factual video evidence, then hide evidence, stymie investigators and provide no transparency.

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    Brad,

    Gaslighting foul.

    Kuff asks:

    “What possible public safety goal would have been achieved by pursuing and then forcibly subduing Javier Ambler?”

    Kuff asks why Javier needed to be stopped, and chased down when he refused to stop. I answered that question. !) possible DWI 2) because police stops aren’t optional

    As usual, the whole episode begins and escalates because somebody doesn’t want to follow the rules. When was your last traffic stop? Did you flee, or did you pull over and deal with it on the spot? If you stopped, why did you stop? Did you stop because you made a decision that you didn’t want to be chased down and subdued?

    Javier made a whole series of illegal and poor decisions. I’d also bet money that this was not Javier’s first rodeo with criminal behavior. Call me unsympathetic to Javier’s death. I am as unsympathetic about Javier dying as you are about Rosalie Cook being stabbed to death by another black man, in broad daylight, right here in Houston. No blog entry about Rosalie. No tears about Rosalie’s last moments, bleeding out, while her black attacker stood over her and watched the life leave her body. No tears for Rosalie, but I’m supposed to care because some screw up in Austin died, after endangering countless lives. Yeah, no. It could have been one of my loved ones killed by Javier while he was fleeing.

    my loved one > Javier

  4. brad says:

    Bill,

    You forgot to mention the murderer of Rosalie Cook had serious mental health issues. What was the Williams County peace officers reasons?

    I was referring to your comments, not Kuff. Keep on point my friend, Mr. Muddy Waters.

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    OK, let’s talk about the murder of David Dorn, by one of your own, one of the black rioters. He was murdered trying to defend his friend’s store from looters. Well, he wasn’t successful, obviously, and they actually found a stolen TV at the home of the black man arrested for David’s murder. Was that black alleged murderer also mentally ill? Or was he just a guy who doesn’t believe that black lives matter, when there’s a TV to steal? No blog about the life of David Dorn. No one is crying out for justice for his black life. Coincidentally, no one is crying out for justice for the other, mostly black, victims of the riots. Why is that?

    List of victims:

    https://twitter.com/DarrenJBeattie/status/1268003013425344514

    I can only guess that the metric for caring about black lives is, 1) victim must be black, 2) victim must be a serial criminal, and 3) victim must be killed by a white person

  6. Flypusher says:

    You should care about how police deal with “screwups” for one fundamental reason, they are the canaries in the coal mine for how safe YOUR civil rights are. If the screwups get due process, then everyone else can be more assured of their rights should they somehow get on the cop’s radar. Because playing by the rules and being innocent is not an ironclad guarantee that you won’t be accused of a crime.

    Also please get rid of that damned “if you criticize police using excessive force against Black suspects you don’t care about Black on Black crime” red herring. It’s stinking up the place very badly.

  7. Flypusher says:

    Here’s the difference Bill, no one is trying to cover for the murderer of Davin Dorn in the way that police unions have covered for bad cops. He was arrested and charged WITHOUT any need for massive public outcry, wasn’t he?

  8. Bill Daniels says:

    I understand and somewhat agree with the canary in the coal mine argument. It’s a valid point.

    Just to show you I’m an impartial observer of all of this, here’s a video of a traffic stop I AM outraged about. Black guy gets pulled over and gets a written warning for going 65 in a 70….on a clear, sunny day. Do you want to complain about police abuse? Here you go.

    This black driver was clearly abused by the white LEO. Now, was he stopped because he was black? I don’t know, but THIS is what a bullshit traffic stop looks like, right here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODmT-KDfkC0&feature=youtu.be

    Also note that this guy stopped, lived to tell about his experience, and I hope he filed a complaint against the cop for being stopped, which is what Javier should have done, if he felt like he didn’t do anything wrong to justify a traffic stop.

  9. Bill Daniels says:

    Fly,

    “Here’s the difference Bill, no one is trying to cover for the murderer of Davin Dorn in the way that police unions have covered for bad cops.”

    The thing is, EVERYONE who saw the tape was outraged and thought what happened to Floyd was wrong. Floyd was a screw up, yes, but I agree what happened to his was wrong. No one, not even police unions, said anything to the contrary. Everyone who saw the tape realized that the cops were absolutely wrong, even if it turns out that the guy would have died anyway from the fentanyl OD. No one was disagreeing it was wrong!

    We had to burn down cities, destroy statues, devastate local economies, allow communists to take over part of Seattle, all over something everyone agreed up front was wrong!

  10. brad says:

    Bill,

    Please turn off Fox News and check out some credible news sources to see that the apocalypse isn’t taking place.

    Cities are not burning down; local economies are not devastated; communists are not taking over Seattle.

    But yes, sweetly, statues related to racist people, and/or related to a racism time, are being torn down. And its probably going to continue by spontaneous independent actions by citizens and more procedurally by governments.

    With Trump being such a promoter of “Winners” and “Winning” I am still surprised by his support for the Confederacy’s symbols…a team that got its ass completely kicked in the Civil War.

    Its not that police unions aren’t saying the video was bad. Its that police unions aren’t promoting and saying they want to dramatically reform the police rules and change union agreements to stop the unnecessary deaths of people from continuing to happen again, and again, again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again,….well, you get the picture……………..or do you?

  11. C.L. says:

    We’re all going to die at some point but I think we’d universally agree our life shouldn’t be ended prematurely by a LEO’s knee to our neck due to bad $20 bill or a LEO’s triplet tasering ’cause we were driving with our high beams on and decided not to pull over for a bit…because, oh I don’t know, racist cops beat the snot out of black guys at 1:30am after a contentious traffic stop.

  12. Flypusher says:

    The issue is that it takes a video. Chauvin had past complaints, and they were not dealt with. It’s a recurring issue. When a cop gets on video using excessive force, it’s almost never his first rodeo.

  13. Flypusher says:

    Another point about video-the murder of Walter Scott. Not only was it clear that he was running away, not a threat, and was shot in the back, the cop walked up to his body and planted his taser to support his lie. Yet there was a juror what just couldn’t convict a cop and hung the jury (fortunately the cop took a plea instead of a retrial). This kind of crap is why there is so much rage. It keeps happening. That it was George Floyd’s murder that happened to be the last straw is the fickle whim of fate (although I must say the Chauvin did up the ante on sheer callousness). This was going to blow up sooner or later. Maybe this time some reform will stick.

  14. Manny says:

    Bill Daniels and people like him, which is a large majority of the Republican Party. Would have been the same people that said crucify Jesus, after all he was a criminal. They would have gone up to the mount just to see Jesus suffer while they laughed with joy.

    That is the kinda people that Bill Daniels and most of the Republicans are.

    Bill Daniels;

    “give orders for the soldiers to shoot to kill any person entering the kill zone from the Mexican side, period. Women? Children? Old people? Military age males? Waste anyone that crosses from Mexico into the US. Back that up with predator drones . and perhaps an A-10 every 3 or 4 hundred miles, for close air support for larger groups, and you’ve secured the border, with no fences.

    https://www.offthekuff.com/wp/?p=89263

  15. Bill Daniels says:

    LOL @ Manny!

    Meanwhile, in the Democratic People’s Republic of CHAZ, the new government has:

    ~ erected a wall

    ~ has armed border patrol

    ~ has roaming brown shirts that have already beaten up an unapproved vandal

    ~ has already had to call for foreign aid to put out an actual dumpster fires

    ~ has had to accept foreign aid to pick up the trash

    Hey Manny, why not round up some of your La Raza buddies and go to CHAZ and try to sneak in and see how you’re treated by the armed Chazistani border patrol!

    And feel free to repost any of my postings. It’s all good stuff that deserves to be seen! Thanks!

  16. brad says:

    Are we talking about CHAZ or the White House?

  17. Bill Daniels says:

    Brad,

    Good hustle on that one. Not gonna lie, I laughed. This is the kind of truly clever snark we need more of here.