Former Texas Deputies Charged With Manslaughter in Death of Black Motorist

The indictments come two years after Javier Ambler cried out “I can’t breathe” and “save me” before dying in front of TV cameras during a traffic stop.

In this image made from body-worn camera video, Williamson County deputies hold down Javier Ambler as one of them uses a Taser on Ambler’s back during his arrest in Austin, Texas, on March 28, 2019. (Austin Police Department via AP)

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Two former Austin-area sheriff deputies were indicted Tuesday for manslaughter in the death of Black motorist Javier Ambler in 2019.

A Travis County grand jury charged former Williamson County sheriff deputies James Johnson and Zach Camden with second-degree manslaughter. Each defendant posted $150,000 in bail and they were released from the Travis County jail on Tuesday. Both men are barred from working as police officers for the duration of the case.

The charges come two full years after the Austin Police Department released a disturbing six-minute body camera video of Ambler’s arrest in March 2019, which was also recorded by a camera crew for police docuseries “Live PD.”

The 40-year-old motorist is shown being dragged out of his car and shot with a Taser four times as police struggle to handcuff him behind his back while on his stomach. Ambler is clearly heard saying “I can’t breathe” several times, as well as “I have congestive heart failure” and “save me” while addressing the officers as “sir.”

Police quickly realized Ambler was unconscious after telling him to “wake up” and shaking him. An officer is heard calling for an ambulance as other officers say they are unable to find a pulse.

Ambler was initially pulled over by Williamson County deputies for failure to dim his lights to oncoming traffic and he led them on a 20-minute chase through north Austin.

Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza told reporters Tuesday the indictments are “another critical step towards justice for the Ambler family” and the community. He thanked grand jurors for their “service to justice.”

“We can never take away the pain of the Ambler family, but the grand jury has sent a clear message that no one is above the law,” Garza said. “Some will inevitably seek to undermine the judgment of the grand jury in their own self-interest. A grand jury is an independent group of representatives of the community, sworn in to uphold their duties, and a critical part of society that enables the public to assess the evidence and participate in the administration of justice.”

Calls for criminal charges against the officers in Ambler’s arrest began in June 2020 in the wake of heightened public outrage over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Two weeks after Floyd’s death, former Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore announced an investigation concluded that Ambler was not resisting arrested immediately before his death. Moore called out former Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody for refusing to cooperate with her investigation, resulting in numerous calls by Williamson County officials that he resign. Chody refused to step down, but he lost his reelection bid at the polls five months later.

A&E Networks abruptly cancelled “Live PD” one day after it admitted the video it recorded of Ambler’s death had been destroyed. The live docuseries shifted between officers in several jurisdictions in the United States with in-studio commentary mixed in. It was consistently the top-rated cable series on Friday nights.

Chody was indicted in September on a charge of evidence tampering, a third-degree felony. He is accused of destroying the video of Ambler’s arrest recorded by “Live PD.” He was booked into his own jail and faces between two and 10 years in state prison if convicted.

The former sheriff’s indictment came four months after the Williamson County Commissioners Court sued him and “Live PD” producers to halt his office from filming for the show. The commissioners terminated an earlier “Live PD” contract in August 2019, but they claim Chody later signed an “access agreement” to restart filming.

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