Texas family to get $5M after death in police custody

December 15, 2021
Javier Ambler died in March 2019 in Williamson County sheriff deputies' custody, after they used a stun gun on him multiple times.
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AUSTIN —  A Texas county on Tuesday reached a $5 million settlement with the family of Javier Ambler, who died in 2019 after sheriff’s deputies shot him with a Taser multiple times while he told them he could not breathe.

The settlement is the largest in Williamson County history, according to officials, and is the latest development in a case that led to multiple indictments, questions about the role of reality TV in law enforcement and a new Texas law banning such partnerships.

“While the Ambler family remains devastated by the loss of their son and loving father, they are proud that they fought for him and hope that this settlement and the changes that have occurred at Williamson County as a result of this case send a powerful message to law enforcement that ignoring a person’s pleas that they cannot breathe will no longer be tolerated,” said Jeff Edwards, the lawyer for Ambler’s family, on Tuesday.

Under the settlement, $3,362,740 will be paid by Travelers Insurance and $1,637,260 will be paid by the county. Ambler’s parents will each receive $1 million. His two children will receive $1.5 million each.

Ambler’s death:Texas police chase ends in death as ‘Live PD’ cameras roll. ‘I can’t breathe,’ man cries

The lawsuit:Family of Black man killed in Texas police chase sues with help of Ben Crump

Ambler, a 40-year-old former postal worker, was driving home from a poker game on March 28, 2019, when he was apprehended after a 22-minute traffic chase that started because he failed to dim his headlights.

He died in the custody of Williamson County sheriff’s deputies who shot him with a Taser four times while he told officers that he could not breathe and that he had congestive heart failure.

Video from an Austin police officer who arrived as the encounter was concluding showed Ambler shouting — while being shocked with the Taser —that he had a chronic heart condition and could not breathe.

According to the lawsuit, deputies forced Ambler to lie on his stomach, a position that can inhibit breathing.

Ambler’s death never made headlines until reporting by the Austin American-Statesman, part of the USA TODAY Network, and KVUE-TV that began in June 2020 after a months-long investigation and fight for public records.

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Investigation:Texas deputies reportedly got steakhouse gift cards for using force

The lawsuit, which was filed in October 2020, claims that deputies were encouraged to engage in reckless police chases and use excessive force while the highly rated “Live PD” television show was filming their daily activities. The suit also claims crews from the since-canceled reality show destroyed video of the encounter and that Ambler’s death violated laws against discrimination against people with disabilities.

Ambler’s death renewed scrutiny on the sheriff’s office, which has long been under fire for its relationship with the TV show amid concerns the presence of TV cameras may lead deputies to forsake prudent policing for dramatic television.

Deputies of the office initiated 40 pursuits in 2019, a 54% increase from the previous year, according to an investigation by the Statesman that analyzed more than 150 pages of pursuit reports. The department chased at a higher rate than other Central Texas law enforcement agencies that weren’t filmed, and half of the department’s pursuits in 2019 happened during the 28 weeks that “Live PD” crews were filming the department.

The “Live PD” show was taken off the air the day after the Statesman and KVUE-TV revealed details about Ambler’s death.

Investigation:As ‘Live PD’ fame increased, deputies in a Texas sheriff’s office chased more

‘Live PD’:How a Texas sheriff’s department used a SWAT team to make ‘Live PD’ more dramatic

The county has contended with multiple lawsuits stemming from allegations of excessive force during the tenure of former Sheriff Robert Chody, who lost his bid for reelection in November 2020 after one term. Chody was indicted in September 2020 on an evidence tampering charge related to the video destruction. He has denied the allegations.

The county’s general council, Jason Nassour, also faces evidence tampering charges for what prosecutors have said was his role in the destruction of “Live PD” video. Deputies J.J. Johnson and Zach Camden have been indicted on manslaughter charges and are no longer on the force.

Williamson County Commissioners Cynthia Long and Russ Boles and County Judge Bill Gravell declined to comment about the case. Commissioner Terry Cook said it was a blessing that Travelers Insurance, the county’s insurer when Ambler died, covered most of the cost of the settlement.

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