Two ex-deputies face manslaughter charges in black man’s death in Texas

The New York Times
Washington, United StatesWritten By: Jacey Fortin © 2021 The New York TimesUpdated: Mar 31, 2021, 02:34 PM IST

A protest in support of Black Lives Matter movement (file photo). Photograph:(AFP)

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The indictments of the former deputies brought the number of people charged in connection with Ambler’s death to four

Two ex-sheriff’s deputies in Texas have been indicted on second-degree manslaughter charges in the death of a Black driver whom they repeatedly shocked with a Taser during a 2019 traffic stop despite his pleas that he had heart disease and could not breathe, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

The former Williamson County deputies, James Johnson and Zachary Camden, had been accompanied by a television crew from the reality television show “Live PD” at the time of their fatal encounter with Javier Ambler, 40, whom they were pursuing for failing to dim his lights to oncoming traffic.

The charges against Johnson and Camden were announced by José Garza, the district attorney in neighboring Travis County, which includes Austin, Texas, where Ambler crashed his vehicle after the police pursued him over a traffic violation.

“With these indictments, we have taken another critical step towards justice for the Ambler family and for our community,” Garza said in a statement. “While we can never take away the pain of the Ambler family, the grand jury has sent a clear message that no one is above the law.”

Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell, the lawyers for Johnson and Camden, said in a joint statement Tuesday that Ambler had led the former deputies on a chase for 22 minutes after a series of collisions and had resisted arrest.

“Mr. Ambler’s physical exertion in resisting the three officers it took to get him into handcuffs no doubt contributed to his medical emergency, but Mr. Johnson and Mr. Camden are neither morally nor legally responsible for his death,” the statement said.

The lawyers for the former deputies accused Garza of trying to score political points with the indictments, which came a few weeks after Garza announced that a grand jury had returned an indictment against an Austin police officer in the shooting death of a man last year that touched off protests against police violence in the state capital. The lawyers also represent the officer in that case.

Bail was set at $150,000 for Johnson and Camden; both have been released. Their lawyers said the former deputies intended to plead not guilty and turned themselves in Tuesday after their indictments were signed Monday.

Ambler’s father, Javier Ambler Sr., thanked Garza in a statement for pursuing charges against the former deputies.

“Our goal has always been to hold these officers accountable so that there are no more families who have to suffer like ours has,” the statement said.

On March 28, 2019, Williamson County deputies tried to stop Javier Ambler because the vehicle he was driving did not dim its lights to traffic, officials said. After deputies tried to pull Ambler over, the authorities said, he kept driving for more than 20 minutes and crashed his vehicle in downtown Austin.

There, deputies used a Taser on Ambler several times.

“I have congestive heart failure,” Ambler could be heard saying on the body camera video. “I can’t breathe.” As he and the deputies struggled, Ambler said, “Save me.” One deputy yelled, “Do what we’re asking you to do.”

Ambler was transported to Dell Seton Medical Center in Austin and pronounced dead just after 2:30 a.m.

The indictments of the former deputies brought the number of people charged in connection with Ambler’s death to four. Last year, the county’s sheriff at the time of Ambler’s death, Robert Chody, was arrested on an evidence tampering charge related to destruction of recordings of the encounter. He has pleaded not guilty, along with Jason Nassour, a Williamson County assistant attorney, who was also charged with evidence tampering.

“Live PD,” which premiered on A&E in 2016, previously broadcast police officers around the country as they made traffic stops, responded to calls and went on high-speed chases. The show was almost live; a delay helped avoid airing footage that was particularly disturbing.

A disclaimer at the beginning of each broadcast told viewers that “all suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty.” The show did not cover what happened to people who had been arrested. Sometimes, people being filmed shielded their faces or objected to the presence of cameras.

Television shows about policing attracted scrutiny last summer amid nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd in May, and in June, A&E announced that it had ceased production of “Live PD.”

Representatives of A&E did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.