AUSTIN (KXAN) – Former Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody has been arrested in Travis County and charged with tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony. This stems from the deadly arrest of Javier Ambler II in March 2019.
Chody, 50, was booked and released Thursday after posting $15,000 bail. KXAN camera crews were there when Chody — now sporting a beard — both walked into the courthouse and again when he walked out a short time later.
It’s the second time in six months grand juries in Travis and Williamson Counties have indicted Chody and former Williamson County general counsel Jason Nassour, who worked under County Attorney Dee Hobbs. Nassour turned himself in to Travis County authorities on Wednesday and posted bail.
Each of the indictments for Chody and Nassour are over Ambler’s death and specifically what happened to video evidence of that arrest. Camera operators recording for the now-defunct “Live PD” reality show on A&E were on scene and recording.
The indictments charge Chody and Nassour with evidence tampering, a third-degree felony, accusing them of allowing the Live PD video to be destroyed.
Chody did not make any statements walking into or leaving the jail Thursday. Chody’s attorney, Gerry Morris, was not available for comment until Thursday evening, according to Morris’ law office.
“Knowing that an investigation was pending or in progress, to wit: the in-custody death of Javier Ambler, intentionally or knowingly conceal or destroy audio and video recordings, by granting another permission to retrieve audio and video recordings with knowledge that the audio and video
recordings would be destroyed no later than thirty (30) days after the audio and video recordings
were captured, with intent to impair the availability as evidence in the investigation,” the Travis County indictment states.
Travis County District Attorney José Garza said Wednesday the Live PD video is still missing.
“Mr. Nassour was indicted today by a Travis County Grand Jury who found probable cause to believe that, knowing that an investigation was pending or in progress, Nassour tampered with physical evidence with the intent to impair its availability as evidence in the investigation,” Garza said.
“I know that these indictments will not bring peace to the Ambler family. No parent should have to bury their child,” Garza said. “But we remain committed to seeing this through on behalf of not just Javier Ambler, but also our community.”
On Wednesday, Ambler’s family thanked those involved in this new indictment.
“The jurors, Travis County, Williamson County, everyone who is trying to help us find some kind of justice and closure for us and for my son,” said Maritza Ambler, Javier Ambler II’s mother.
Deputies involved in Ambler’s death also arrested
On Tuesday, the Travis County grand jury also indicted the two Williamson County deputies who used a stun gun while arresting Ambler. The March 29 Travis County indictments accuse JJ Johnson and Zachary Camden of acting recklessly and ignoring pleas from Ambler that he couldn’t breathe as deputies worked to handcuff him.
Ambler’s encounter with Johnson and Camden started in Williamson County after Ambler didn’t dim his bright headlights, then wouldn’t stop when deputies tried to pull him over. The Williamson County grand jury did not indict Johnson or Camden during its review that ended with the Chody and Nassour indictment in September 2020.
Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick explained the reason for that was because Ambler died in Travis County — none of the alleged criminal acts against law enforcement happened in Williamson County.
Ambler led deputies on a 22-minute long chase out of Williamson County that ended inside Austin city limits when Ambler crashed. Austin police body camera video shows Johnson and Camden trying to handcuff Ambler as he lay on the ground beside his vehicle.
Since Ambler’s death happened inside Austin Police Department’s jurisdiction, APD took over the death investigation. An in-custody death report filed by APD Chief Brian Manley shows Ambler died 1 hour and 11 minutes after he was arrested.
The report shows Ambler’s manner of death as homicide but includes a note in the report that the homicide “includes Justifiable Homicide.”
The Custodial Death Report shows Ambler’s medical cause of death as “Congestive Heart Failure and Hypertensive Cardiovascular Disease Associated with Morbid Obesity, in combination with Forcible Restraint.” The report also lists other contributing conditions within Ambler’s medical condition as “Lymphocytic Myocarditis.”
The report also lists “law enforcement/correctional personnel” as the people “who caused the death.”
Attorneys for Johnson and Camden told KXAN neither deputy was “morally nor legally responsible” for Ambler’s death, citing Ambler’s health conditions detailed in the death investigation as the true cause.
The attorneys also indicated the Travis County District Attorney of carrying out “his political talking point,” of prosecuting officers. The deputies’ defense team also pointed out in a statement DA Garza did not ask either deputy or their defense team to testify before the grand jury.
“Contrary to widespread media mischaracterizations, Mr. Ambler was not pursued for failing to dim his headlights. He was pursued for the felony offense of evading arrest in a vehicle, and over the course of the twenty-two minute pursuit for an additional four counts of leaving the scene of an accident, one of which involved crashing through a homeowner’s fence,” the deputies’ defense attorneys Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell wrote in a statement following the announcement of the Travis County indictments.
“Mr. Ambler’s fifth and final collision disabled his vehicle and prevented him from continuing to evade. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Ambler died because of congestive heart failure, hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with morbid obesity, and lymphocytic myocarditis. 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 attorneys wrote.
Johnson and Camden are free on $150,000 bond. A condition of bond bans either man from working in law enforcement or working as security officers while under bond awaiting trial.