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Family of Texas Man Who Died After ‘Live PD’ Chase That Began Over High Beams to Receive $5M Settlement, the Largest Payout In County’s History

The family of a Black man in Texas who died after he was taken into custody by Williamson County sheriff’s deputies in March 2019 has now settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the local sheriff’s department for $5 million. 

Javier Ambler II’s death was filmed by “Live PD” producers, who at the time were working with the officers for a reality show set to air on national television.

Javier Ambler died in March 2019 after Williamson County sheriff’s deputy J.J. Johnson tried to pull him over for driving with bright headlights. (Photo: Javier Gata Ambler/Facebook)

Williamson County commissioners voted on Tuesday, Dec. 14, to approve the seven-figure settlement.

The largest settlement in the county’s history, the Austin American-Statesman reports, that $3,362,740 will be paid by Travelers Insurance, and the remaining $1,637,260 will come directly from the county.

Ambler’s death was not immediately a national headline. Despite the incident happening in 2019, it wasn’t until June 2020 when the local news station KVUE and the Austin American-Statesman broke the story that the nature of his death was made public.

Reports revealed that two Williamson deputies, J.J. Johnson and Zach Camden, chased Ambler across city lines into Austin with the “Live PD” camera crews documenting the 22-minute pursuit.

They started chasing Ambler because he had failed to dim his headlights on his vehicle. When the officers finally caught Ambler after his car crashed, they tased him four consecutive times despite his pleas that he had congestive heart failure and could not breathe. The 40-year-old died immediately afterward.

Big Fish Entertainment, the production company behind the reality show, not only destroyed the footage from the chase but canceled the A&E “live cops on the scene” series.

Police bodycam footage showed the world what actually happened. 

In detail, the video showed the 400-pound man struggling to breathe but describing his health challenges and insisting that he was not trying to resist arrest.

At the time of the filing, Javier Ambler Sr., his father, told reporters, “He was my firstborn, you know. And I’m here to tell you they took him away … they took him away way too early from me. He was supposed to bury me.”

“This lawsuit is not going to bring my child back, but it is going to represent some kind of justice for my son,” Maritza, Ambler’s mom, said. “And that’s all we’re asking for.”

The ruling is the first step toward justice.

A statement regarding the ruling was posted on social media from the Ambler family’s legal team, Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci, Jeff Edwards, and Bhavani Raveendran.

It read in part, “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 in Williamson County, Texas 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.”

In 2020, the family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county. They alleged that the former sheriff, Robert Chody, permitted the reality show to capture footage of his members of the department while on duty because the show “helps his department recruit officers, and has made it an essential component of the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department.”

The lawsuit further suggests that the department, starting from the sheriff on down, had a history of using excessive violence and claimed that Chody “encouraged his officers to engage in dangerous, high-risk police tactics because it made for more entertaining television in service to Live PD.”

The fallout from the show’s involvement with Ambler’s death has been massive. In addition to this historic settlement, in September 2020 Chody and Williamson County general counsel Jason Nassour were indicted by a grand jury on charges of tampering with physical evidence related to the incident. In 2021, a separate grand jury indicted Johnson and Camden on second-degree manslaughter charges for Ambler’s death. 

All of the indicted men maintain their innocence.

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