Texas Sheriff Accused of Destroying Video of Black Motorist’s Death

Williamson County, Texas, 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)

GEORGETOWN, Texas (CN) — An Austin-area sheriff was arrested Monday and booked into his own jail for the alleged destruction of video recorded by police docuseries “Live PD” of the chase and death of unarmed Black motorist Javier Ambler last year.

A Williamson County grand jury on Friday charged Sheriff Robert Chody with one count of evidence tampering, a third-degree felony. The indictment was made public Monday morning.

Chody faces between two and 10 years in state prison if convicted. He was booked on $10,000 bond and had yet to be released as of Monday afternoon, according to jail records.

The indictment comes three months after Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick and Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore launched an investigation into Ambler’s death after cable channel A&E admitted “Live PD” video of Ambler’s arrest had been destroyed. A&E then abruptly cancelled the show despite renewing it for an additional 160 episodes weeks earlier.

“Live PD” broadcast new episodes weekly 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 on Friday nights.

The cancellation came days after the Austin Police Department released a disturbing six-minute video of Ambler’s arrest in March 2019. The 40-year-old Black man 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 sheriff deputies for failure to dim his lights to oncoming traffic and he led them on a 20-minute chase into north Austin.

Chody’s arrest comes three months after several Williamson County commissioners called for his resignation over accusations he refused to cooperate with an earlier investigation into Ambler’s death. Commissioner Cynthia Long said at the time Chody must resign because he “lacks the moral authority” to be a policeman.

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 to step down.

In May, the commissioners sued Chody and “Live PD” producer Big Fish Entertainment LLC to stop his office’s filming of the show. The commissioners terminated the “Live PD” contract in August 2019, but claim Chody late signed an “access agreement” to restart filming.

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.”

Former Williamson County general counsel Jason Nassout is indicted alongside Chody with evidence tampering. He is currently a partner at Keel & Nassour in Austin, according to his Linkedin profile.

Chody’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his indictment Monday afternoon. But the sheriff later said at a press conference that he is not guilty of the charge and accused prosecutors Dick and Moore of engaging in political retribution against him.

“I find it shocking and disgusting that our district attorney uses his office for his political agenda,” Chody told reporters outside of the county jail. “Unfortunately, Shawn Dick continues the sad tradition in Williamson County of charging people for crimes they did not commit, and he does this while not pursuing cases that we hand over from our office.”

Ambler’s family reacted with disappointment to the charge against Chody, saying “it seems the sheriff was more interested in being part of a reality television program and providing entertaining video content” than protecting Black citizens.

“If true, such shameful behavior by a law enforcement leader is striking evidence that there needs to be a sweeping, systemic overhaul of our system of policing,” the family said in a statement through attorney Jeff Edwards in Austin.

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