Before Live PD was effectively cancelled yesterday, I was bombarded with questions from Live PD fans, critics as well as from friends and colleagues about exactly what happened to a Live PD video of the gruesome death of 40-year-old former postal worker Javier Ambler. Even though the show isn’t coming back, I still felt it critical to address the important questions I have been asked — questions that I had been preparing to answer publicly when the show abruptly ended.
Javier Ambler was involved in a 22-minute pursuit with officers on March 28, 2019 in Texas which culminated in his vehicle crashing. He was then tased four times by police, was heard screaming “save me” and “I can’t breathe,” became unresponsive and then tragically died. After seeing the disturbing body cam footage of the incident, so many rightly want to understand how this happened and what role Live PD played in the investigation, particularly in light of some inaccurate and misleading reporting on the incident. Before I get to that, let me say that having watched Javier’s parents in TV interviews, my heart breaks for them and their loss. I wish there was more we, I, could do for them . . . which leads to the questions being asked of Live PD and me.
1) Did Live PD cameras capture footage of the incident?
Yes. While I never saw the footage myself, Live PD was on scene with Williamson County deputies when the incident occurred.
2) Did it occur during a Live PD show?
No. The show was on hiatus when the incident occurred and the show was filming for future episodes. It never aired on the show.
3) Why didn’t Live PD air it?
Because it involved a fatality and A&E standards and practices didn’t permit us to show a fatality on the show.
4) Was this the only footage of the incident?
No. Body cam footage from officers at the scene has now been made public and had been used in the investigation.
5) Does Live PD still have the footage of the incident?
6) Why not?
Live PD had a 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. 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.
7) But Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore has said she is “troubled that the show so far has produced no video.” So why didn’t Live PD turn over the video in the first place?
The Live PD attorneys informed me that’s because she never asked. 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.
8) But knowing what happened on that video how could the show not keep it just in case?
Given what happened, I wish the tape had been preserved and the policy should have had an exception for this sort of situation. Many of us were advocating for a change in the policy before the show was canceled.
9) In retrospect, do you think Live PD should have shown this video on the show? Yes . . . everything up to Javier Ambler’s final moments. It would have been very difficult to watch but in an ongoing effort to show all sides of policing I wish this had been aired just as we had shown many other controversial moments that led to criticism of, and appreciation for, police.
10) How are you feeling now that the show has been cancelled?
I am frustrated and sad because I truly believed in the mission of the show to provide transparency in policing. I completely agree with advocates calling for more body cams on officers and more uniform rules for their use. It seems to me that the antidote to bad policing and officers is transparency and that means more body cams and more shows like Live PD. It’s important to distinguish Live PD from a show like “Cops” that just presented a highlight reel of crazy moments. Live PD was totally different — following the officers in real time, in their real environments showing the nerves, the adrenaline, the bad, the good, and often the mundane and boring. I will miss it all.
[Image via A&E/YouTube screengrab]
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