A Texas man’s March 2019 death is under renewed scrutiny in light of unrest that has swept the country since the Memorial Day death of George Floyd.
Recently released documents and body camera footage obtained via the Texas Public Information Act provided insight into the fateful incident, according to a report from The Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV. On March 28, 2019, at 1:23 a.m., Williamson County Sheriff’s Deputy J.J. Johnson tried to pull Javier Ambler over for driving with his high beams facing oncoming traffic in a suburb north of Austin. Both Johnson and Ambler are Black men.
Ambler kept driving, and Johnson chased him across the county line and into the Austin city limits, which is Travis County. At the time, Johnson was accompanied by a camera crew from “Live PD,” a reality show produced by A&E. The episode has not aired.
The chase ended around 1:45 a.m. after Ambler crashed his SUV into several objects. He was ordered out of his Honda Pilot and showed his hands. Johnson pulled his taser and told Ambler to get on the ground. When Ambler turned toward his vehicle, Johnson tased him. He fell and rolled. Ambler tried to stand up, according to an internal report, and Johnson threatened to shock him again.
“You’ll get it again,” he shouted. Moments later, Ambler was tased in his upper back by backup Deputy Zachary Camden, who is white. Ambler was shocked a third time, but it is unclear who deployed the taser.
A body camera worn by Austin Police officer responding to the wreck showed the fourth and final time Ambler was tased. Several deputies commanded Ambler to place his arms behind his back and lie flat on his stomach. He repeatedly told them he was struggling.
“I have congestive heart failure,” Ambler told the deputies. “I have congestive heart failure. I am not resisting. I can’t breathe.”
His pleas were ignored and they continued to cuff him.
Ambler yelled “save me” and a deputy responded, “do what we’re asking you to do!”
He replied “I can’t” before he became unresponsive barely two minutes into the video. The deputies didn’t notice he went silent until about minute later. They performed CPR for four minutes before medics showed up. At 2:37 a.m., Ambler was pronounced dead at a local hospital, 28 minutes after the encounter began. He left behind two sons and was a former member of the United States Postal Service.
An autopsy ruled the death a homicide. The examiner determined Ambler died from congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease compounded by morbid obesity “in combination with forcible restraint.” Amber was 400 pounds at the time of his death.
Ambler’s death has been under investigation, but it has progressed slowly due to uncooperative parties. It took months of requests from the American-Statesman before the Austin Police video and Williamson County internal report were finally revealed. Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and “Live PD” have refused to turn over footage from the show’s cameras. Chody’s relationship with the show has been controversial, and he has been accused of prioritizing fame over keeping the community safe.
Ambler’s parents did not know about the details of their son’s death until last week.
“He’s dead. How?” Maritza Ambler, his mother, told the American-Statesman. “I can’t have any closure because I need to know.”
No one was reprimanded for Ambler’s death. The Williamson County Sheriff’s Department, in its report to the state’s attorney office, said the homicide could have been “justifiable.”