Austin-Area Sheriff Who Resisted Probe on Slain Motorist Asked to Resign

Sheriff Robert Chody (Photo courtesy of Williamson County Sheriff’s Department)

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — County leaders demanded an Austin-area sheriff resign Tuesday over accusations he is refusing to cooperate with an investigation into the death of unarmed black motorist Javier Ambler recorded by the Live PD reality docu-series — a police killing that has drawn heightened public outrage since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police two weeks ago.

Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long expressed “shock” at Sheriff Robert Chody’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation by Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, saying he “lacks the moral authority” to be a policeman.

“Sheriff Chody must resign,” Long said.

Commissioner Terri Cook agreed, expressing “no confidence” that Chody “has the temperament, operational intelligence, administrative ability nor the people skills to handle the job.”

Commissioner Russ Boles added “the citizens have lost faith” in the sheriff, meaning three of the five members of the commissioners court want Chody’s resignation.

Ambler, 40, was initially pulled over by Williamson County sheriff deputies 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 realize Ambler is 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.”

DA Moore said Monday that initial findings of her year-long investigation indicate Ambler was indeed not resisting arrest. She claims Williamson County has “stonewalled” her investigation and demands for the Live PD video footage, tweeting Tuesday that she stands by her accusations that Sheriff Chody is not cooperating.

“We planned to take this case before a grand jury in April, but [because] of COVID-19 we’ll be empaneling this summer,” she tweeted Monday. “We’re taking this case seriously & working to seek justice for Javier & his family.”

Chody’s office declined to comment on Ambler’s death Tuesday due to Moore’s investigation, but did say “we can correct misleading statements” it alleges Moore has made. Chody’s office claims it is “ready and willing” to participate in the investigation, but that Moore has not contacted it.

“Any attempt to say we have slowed or otherwise impeded the investigation is absolutely false,” Chody’s office said in a statement. “We participated fully in the investigations launched by the Austin Police Department, the results of which have been forwarded to the Travis County D.A.. In terms of any Live PD Footage, as a department, we do not control the footage. However, I join the Travis County D.A. in requesting that Live PD make any existing footage available for review by Travis County prosecutors.”

The commissioners’ calls for Chody to step down come one month after they sued him and Live PD producer Big Fish Entertainment LLC to stop his office’s filming of the show. Live PD broadcasts new episodes weekly on A&E Networks, with cameras following police officers live on their shifts during “a typical Friday night” while on duty. The show shifts between officers in several different jurisdictions with in-studio commentary mixed in.

A&E Networks confirmed late Tuesday that Live PD’s video of the Amblin’s arrest has since been destroyed. It claims Austin investigators did not ask for the recordings or seek to interview its 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,” A&E Networks said in a statement.

The network said the arrest did not make it to air and the video was not broadcast later, either.

The commissioners’ attorney, Sean Breen with Howry, Breen & Herman in Austin, said at the time the lawsuit was filed that Chody “doesn’t need live TV to do his job, but he doesn’t like losing the spotlight.” He accused Chody of being “more concerned about show business than sheriff business.”

“Chody went behind the commissioners’ backs and secretly and illegally tried to re-contract with the show,” Breen said in a statement. “Because he doesn’t have the authority to do that, and because he won’t obey the cease-and-desist order of the commissioners court, we had to file suit to make the sheriff abide by the law.”

According to the lawsuit, the commissioners terminated Live PD’s contract in August 2019. Chody then tweeted nine months later that his office signed an “access agreement” to reinstate filming.

“I believe having #LivePd in WilCo is a necessary tool for our office for many reasons,” Chody said at the time. “In addition, the community at a large scale approves.”

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