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Texas county to pay $5M to family of Black motorist who died as TV cameras rolled

Body camera footage shows Javier Ambler screaming "I can't breathe" and "I have congestive heart failure" while being shot repeatedly with a stun gun during a traffic stop over undimmed headlights.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — A Texas county has agreed to pay $5 million to settle wrongful death claims brought by the family of Javier Ambler, a Black motorist who was shot with a stun gun and died during a traffic stop while cameras with reality TV show “Live PD” rolled.

The Williamson County Commissioners Court voted to pay $1.6 million dollars Tuesday with the remaining $3.4 million being paid by Travelers Insurance under the county’s insurance policies. Each of Ambler’s parents will receive $1 million and each of his two children will get $1.5 million.

The family’s attorney Jeff Edwards said they “remain devastated” by the loss of their father and son.

“They are proud that they fought for him and hope that this settlement and the changes that have occurred at Williamson County as a result of this case send a powerful message to law enforcement that ignoring a person's pleas that they cannot breathe will no longer be tolerated,” Edwards said Tuesday.

County sheriff’s deputies tried to pull over Ambler, 40, on March 28, 2019, for failure to dim his headlights to oncoming traffic. He allegedly refused to stop and led 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 of Ambler’s stop over one year after he died. Police are shown dragging Ambler out of his car and shooting him with a stun gun four times as they 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.”

Former Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody refused to cooperate with an investigation into Ambler’s death last year by former Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, resulting in county commissioners demanding his resignation. Chody was later arrested in December 2020 and booked into his own jail, charged with felony evidence tampering for allegedly destroying video of Ambler’s arrest and death. He faces up to 10 years in state prison if convicted.

“Live PD” was promptly canceled by cable channel A&E on June 10, 2020, one day after it admitted video of Ambler’s arrest it recorded was destroyed. The cancellation came two weeks after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis that sparked months of nationwide protests against police brutality.

The series ended one month after it was renewed by A&E for an additional 160 episodes. “Live PD” featured weekly new episodes with cameras following on-duty police officers live on their shifts during “a typical Friday night.” The show rotated between officers in several different jurisdictions with in-studio commentary mixed in. It was consistently the top-rated cable series Friday nights.

Two of the former sheriff deputies involved in the chase, J.J. Johnson and Zach Camden, were charged with second-degree manslaughter in Travis County nine months ago. They remain barred from working as police officers while the case plays out.

The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature passed House Bill 54 seven months ago that bans reality television crews from filming police. Titled Javier Ambler’s Law, HB 54 passed the House of Representatives 110-34 and the Senate 27-3 after lobbying by Ambler’s family.

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