Mar 31, 2021 - Politics & Policy

2 former Texas sheriff's deputies indicted over Javier Ambler's death

James Johnson, left, and Zachary Camden, former sheriff’s deputies in Texas, have been indicted for second degree manslaughter.

Former Williamson County, Texas, deputies James Johnson (L) and Zachary Camden. Photo: Travis County Jail

A Texas grand jury has indicted two former sheriff's deputies from Williamson County, Texas, on second-degree manslaughter charges over the death in custody of Javier Ambler, a 40-year-old Black man.

The big picture: Former Williamson County deputies Zachary Camden and James Johnson were with a crew from the since-canceled A&E reality TV show "Live PD" when they pursued the father of two on March 28, 2019.

  • Officials have said they stopped him for failing to dim his SUV's headlights to oncoming traffic before pursuing him for over 20 minutes.
  • Austin Police Department body camera footage shows officers using Tasers on him several times as Ambler told them he had "congestive heart failure" and "can't breathe."

For the record: Camden and Johnson posted bail, which was set at $150,000 each following Monday's indictment, according to the Travis County District Attorney's Office.

  • Two other men have been arrested in connection with the incident — Robert Chody who faces an evidence tampering charge over the alleged destruction of recordings, and Jason Nassour, a Williamson County assistant attorney who's also been charged with evidence tampering, the New York Times notes.

What they're saying: "With these indictments, we have taken another critical step towards justice for the Ambler family and for our community," said District Attorney José Garza 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."

The accused men's attorneys said in a statement Tuesday that Ambler had several collisions during the pursuit and he resisted arrest. They called the indictments a "political talking point."

  • They deny Ambler was stopped for failing to dim his headlights and say instead that he was pulled over for "felony offense of evading arrest in a vehicle."
  • "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.

Of note: The presence of the TV crew has raised ethical concerns about television shows partnering with law enforcement and a proposed bill, the Javier Ambler Law, which is before the Texas legislature, seeks to ban law the practice.

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