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Sheriff Indicted for Alleged Evidence Tampering in Death of Javier Ambler

Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and former Williamson County general counsel Jason Nassour have been indicted in Texas for a felony evidence tampering charge in connection to video depicting the death of Javier Ambler.

Records show that the lawman was locked up at the local jail on $10,000 bond, and then released.

Nassour is not in jail as of Monday afternoon.

Records did not name attorneys for either defendant. Neither the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office nor the office of County Attorney Doyle Hobbs Jr. immediately responded to a Law&Crime request for comment. Nassour was the former general counsel in the latter agency, according to KVUE.

[Warning: The video is disturbing.]

Body cam footage from March 28, 2019 showed the end of an incident in which Ambler, 40, allegedly led law enforcement on a chase after he did not dim his high beam headlights in the face of oncoming traffic. The pursuit lasted 22 minutes, crossing into Travis County and the city of Austin. Ambler crashed into trees.

As seen on video, Williamson County Deputy J.J. Johnson approached Ambler at gunpoint. He told him to get out of the vehicle, to put up his hands, and to get on the ground. The deputy holstered his firearm, took out a Taser, and ordered Ambler to get down.

Ambler told deputies he could not breathe and that he had congestive heart failure. Officials had tased him four times, according to The Austin American-StatesmanHe died, and it was later ruled a homicide. A report filed with state attorney general’s office on Ambler’s in-custody death suggested the homicide may have been “justifiable.” Deputies had said that Ambler did not comply with commands to put his hand behind his back. As seen in video, Ambler insisted that he was attempting to comply.

The incident caught nationwide attention in June 2020, with the publication of body cam footage. It turned out that the incident was filmed by a crew from the TV show Live PD. The footage never aired. [Disclosure: Law&Crime is owned in part by A&E. Founder Dan Abrams was the host of Live PD.]

From the get-go, there was controversy over the handling of footage in connection to the incident. For example, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore claimed the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office did not cooperate with the investigation, and she asserted that Live PD had not handed over the footage.

At the time, Chody declined to comment in the American-Statesman article, citing the ongoing investigation.

“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,” A&E told Law&Crime in a statement.

The show was canceled in the wake of the Ambler reports and amid heightened tensions after the controversial, unrelated arrest and death of Minnesota man George Floyd. Floyd and Ambler were Black; so is Deputy J.J. Johnson. Deputy Zachary Camden, another Williamson County official who used a Taser on Ambler, is white.

Abrams said that Live PD did not air their footage because it involved a death, and A&E standards and practices did not allow them to show a fatality on the program. He said that the show did not have video of the incident because of their long standing policy to only keep footage for a few weeks “absent a specific legal request to retain it and all of the departments we followed were aware of that policy.”

From an op-ed, in the wake of the June 2020 reports on Ambler’s death:

The reason for this policy was so that we did not become an arm of law enforcement attempting to use Live PD videos to prosecute citizens seen on the footage. Live PD was there to chronicle law enforcement, not to assist the police as a video repository for prosecuting alleged criminals. In this particular case, the Williamson County Sheriff apparently requested that Live PD retain the video pending an investigation. Live PD did just that for three months until June 2019, when the Williamson County Sheriff informed Live PD attorneys that their investigation was complete using the body cam footage that they had.

Abrams said that Live PD attorneys told him DA Margaret Moore never asked for the video.

“Nor did anyone else in law enforcement or any other attorney make a request to them for the footage before this week, over one year later,” he wrote.

[Mugshot of Chody via Williamson County jail records]

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