On Monday, a Texas grand jury indicted Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody for tampering with video evidence that showed the moments that led up to the death of a Black man last year.
Chody was charged with the felony for allegedly destroying “Live PD” footage of the fatal arrest of Javier Ambler, who died after a police chase in March 2019.
After the Austin American-Statesman reported in June that the “Live PD” footage of the encounter had been destroyed, Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick and Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore launched an investigation.
During weeks of testimony, the grand jury heard from 19 witnesses, including deputies who were on the scene the night of Ambler’s death.
Former Williamson County general counsel Jason Nassour, who was at the scene on the night of Ambler’s death, was also indicted on an evidence tampering charge. The third-degree felony is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Chody denied allegations that he tampered with evidence, and suggested the investigation was launched to hurt his chances in the upcoming election.
“I did not tamper with evidence,” Chody said. “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.”
District Attorney Dick said the timing of the investigation was not intentional and that the DA’s office had only learned about Ambler’s death in May.
Chody turned himself in to Williamson County Jail on Monday. He was released after posting $10,000 bond. Chody said he will not resign. Officials in Texas can serve if indicted, but may be removed if convicted.
Deputies J.J. Johnson and Zach Camden chased Ambler for 22 minutes after initially pursuing him because his high beams were on while facing oncoming traffic. Ambler’s vehicle was disabled after he crashed into multiple objects. The deputies tased Ambler four times during the arrest, as he cried out saying he could not breathe and that he had a congestive heart condition. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital, and his death was ruled a homicide.
Johnson and Camden were cleared of wrongdoing by an internal investigation by Williamson County PD, but the deputies’ use of force is still being investigated by Austin police and Travis County prosecutors.
Prosecutors did not provide details about Chody’s role in the evidence tampering, as the case remains open. They also did not specify how they attempted to obtain the footage from “Live PD.”
A contract between the Williamson County Police Department and “Live PD” dictated that producers could destroy footage within 30 days of its capture, unless a court order or federal law required otherwise.
Former “Live PD” host Dan Abrams said sheriffs initially asked that the footage of Ambler’s death be retained, but that Chody contacted them and said the investigation was over. At that point, the footage of the encounter was destroyed by the producers.
Publicly, Chody never said he was aware of the footage. His office resisted releasing the details and body camera footage of Ambler’s death.
State Rep. James Talarico said on Monday that he is working with Ambler’s family to write a legislation that would ban Texas police departments from working with reality TV shows like “Live PD.”
A Travis County grand jury will begin hearing evidence in November.