A Texas sheriff has been charged with evidence tampering for allegedly destroying reality TV video footage that showed deputies chasing and using excessive force on a Black man, which eventually led to his death in an incident that took place last year.
A Williamson Country grand jury on Monday indicted Sheriff Robert Chody for allegedly destroying or concealing the video footage of the incident that was captured on camera by the controversial reality show 'Live PD.'
Accused of Destroying Evidence
The video showed the arrest and the death of Javier Ambler, a 40-year-old African-American man who was tased by deputies four times in March 2019. Former Williamson County general counsel Jason Nassour was also indicted on a felony evidence tampering charge for destroying the footage "with intent to impair their ability as evidence" in the investigation.
"We believe that there are facts supporting tampering in Travis County as well...the reason [Williamson County] has to come first is because the 'Live PD' video would be holding material to the investigation and to the use of force," said Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, who opened a joint investigation with Williams County District Attorney Shawn Dick after reports revealed that 'Live PD' had destroyed the footage of Ambler's death.
Chody Denies Allegations, Claims It Is Politically-Motivated
Chody, who was being held in Williamson County Jail before being released on a $10,000 bond rejected the allegations in a press conference, accusing authorities of colluding in a politically fueled conspiracy to falsely prosecute him. Chody is facing a Democratic challenger in the Nov. 3 election.
"I did not tamper with evidence," Chody said, stating the charge was "engineered" by Dick, who is "pushing misleading stories while pursuing false prosecution." "We are now at one month from the election and the DA is just now acting in a case that is nearly two years old," he added.
'I Can't Breathe'
According to authorities, on March 28, 2019, two Williamson County sheriff's deputies, James Johnson and Zach Camden, were pursuing Ambler after he failed to dim his headlights amid oncoming traffic.
A 22-minute car chase ensued that was captured on the deputies' body-worn cameras. The chase, which involved multiple car crashes, ended in Austin, where the two deputies restrained Ambler. He died after being handcuffed, tased four times, and pushed to the ground by deputies.
Moments before his death, Ambler told the deputies that he had a heart condition and couldn't breathe. According to a custodial death report filed by the Texas Attorney General's office, Ambler died of congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with morbid obesity—in combination with forcible restraint. His death was ultimately ruled a homicide.
'Live PD' Has Previously Destroyed, Edited Footage on Police Orders
The encounter was also captured in the footage recorded by the 'Live PD' crew members, who were following Johnson and Camden as they pursued Ambler. However, those video files were ultimately destroyed.
This was not an isolated instance. The now-cancelled A&E show's production company and law enforcement agencies touted the reality show as a transparent look into policing in America. However, behind the scenes, the show allowed agencies to delete or edit out scenes before the program aired, according to emails, video clips and records obtained by The Marshall Project.
These scenes included deputies forcefully grabbing a woman named as a victim of domestic violence out of her Washington state home, and a Louisiana officer possibly calling a Black man "boy." The program didn't use parts or all of the video in these and several instances when officers didn't approve, the records show, raising concerns that the show was helping shield possible police misconduct.