AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Cable channel A&E canceled police docuseries “Live PD” late Wednesday, a day after it admitted video of the arrest and death of an unarmed black motorist was destroyed and two weeks after George Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests against police brutality.
A&E Networks said “this is a critical time in our nation’s history” when announcing the abrupt cancellation. It comes one month after the show was renewed for an additional 160 episodes. “Live PD” broadcast weekly new episodes with cameras following on-duty police officers live on their shifts during “a typical Friday night.”
The show shifted between officers in several different jurisdictions with in-studio commentary mixed in. It was consistently the top-rated cable series Friday nights.
“Going forward, we will determine if there is a clear pathway to tell the stories of both the community and the police officers whose role it is to serve them,” A&E said in a statement. “And with that, we will be meeting with community and civil rights leaders as well as police departments.”
The announcement comes five days after A&E chose to not broadcast a new episode last Friday “out of respect for the families of George Floyd and others who have lost their lives.” It comes two days after Paramount Network canceled the long-running police docuseries “Cops.” Critics argue the television shows glorify police brutality against minorities.
In admitting the deletion of video from black motorist Javier Ambler’s arrest and death Tuesday, A&E claimed Austin-area investigators failed to ask for the recordings or seek interviews from its producers.
“Live PD” host Dan Abrams tweeted Tuesday that the video was shot during a hiatus “when producers are regularly out in the field” taking footage.
“The footage never aired on Live PD per A&E standards and practices because it involved a fatality,” he said. “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.”
Ambler, 40, was initially pulled over by Williamson County sheriff deputies on March 28, 2019, for failure to dim his lights to oncoming traffic. Ambler allegedly refused to stop his car and led the deputies and responding Austin police on a 20-minute chase into north Austin.
The Austin Police Department released a disturbing six-minute body camera video Monday showing police dragging Ambler out of the car. Ambler is shot with a Taser four times as police struggle to handcuff him behind his back while on his stomach. Ambler is heard exclaiming “I can’t breathe” multiple times, “I have congestive heart failure” and “save me” while addressing the officers as “sir.”
Police quickly realized Ambler was unconscious after shaking him and saying “wake up” several times. An officer is heard calling for an ambulance as other officers say they are unable to find a pulse.
Ambler is heard gasping “I’m not resisting” as officers initially tried to handcuff him on the ground. This contradicts the state’s custodial death report from April 2019 that stated Ambler was resisting being handcuffed. The report further stated Ambler exited the car but “did not immediately comply with the deputy’s verbal commands.”
Three out of the five members of the Williamson County Commissioners Court demanded the resignation Tuesday of Sheriff Robert Chody after Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore accused him of failing to cooperate with her investigation into Ambler’s killing.
The commissioners sued Chody and “Live PD” producer Big Fish Entertainment LLC last month to stop his office from filming with the show, claiming he defied the commissioners’ termination of the “Live PD” contract in August 2019 by signing an “access agreement” nine months later reinstating filming.
Show host Abrams said he was “shocked and beyond disappointed” about the cancellation.
“To the loyal #LivePDNation please know I, we, did everything we could to fight for you, and for our continuing effort at transparency in policing,” he tweeted late Wednesday. “I was convinced the show would go on.”
Abrams had tweeted two days earlier his belief the show was coming back.
“All of us associated with the show are as committed to it as ever,” he tweeted at the time. “We are still discussing some specifics but I want to assure the #LivePDNation that we are not abandoning you.”
Abrams posted on his website Thursday that he thinks “Live PD” should have broadcast “everything up to Javier Ambler’s final moments” on the show.
“Given what happened, I wish the tape had been preserved and the policy should have had an exception for this sort of situation,” he said. “It would have been very difficult to watch but in an ongoing effort to show all sides of policing I wish this had been aired just as we had shown many other controversial moments that led to criticism of, and appreciation for, police.”
Abrams said he “completely” agrees with calls for more police to wear body cameras and for uniform rules for their use.
“It seems to me that the antidote to bad policing and officers is transparency and that means more body cams and more shows like ‘Live PD,’” he said. “It’s important to distinguish ‘Live PD’ from a show like ‘Cops’ that just presented a highlight reel of crazy moments.”