Travis County DA says WCSO, Live PD ‘stonewalled’ in-custody death investigation

Travis County

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said on Monday that the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office has “stonewalled” an in-custody death investigation for the past year by not allowing footage captured by the reality television show “Live PD” to be released. Meanwhile, WSCO said Tuesday the Travis County DA never contacted it related to the investigation and also called on “Live PD” to release the footage.

Javier Ambler died in the custody of Williamson County deputies on March 28, 2019 after a 22-minute chase that began in Williamson County and ended in north Austin. The pursuit began after Ambler failed to dim his headlights for oncoming traffic, Moore said.

Moore said initial findings support that Ambler notified officers of his congenital heart defect before he was tased four times. In body camera footage from an Austin Police Dept. officer who responded to the scene, Ambler can be heard saying, “I have congestive heart failure,” and, “I can’t breathe.”

“For the last year, (Williamson County Sheriff’s Office) has stonewalled our investigation,” Moore wrote on Twitter. “What should have been a routine traffic stop ended with Javier’s death.”

Moore said initial findings support that Ambler was not resisting arrest at the time of his death. She said the COVID-19 pandemic delayed plans to present the case to a grand jury but a grand jury will be empaneled this summer.

WCSO said in a statement Tuesday that it can’t comment on Ambler’s death due to the ongoing investigation, but said it wanted to correct what it said were “misleading statements” from Moore.

“The Williamson County Sheriff’s Department remains ready and willing to participate in the investigation being conducted by the Travis County D.A.’s office. However, the Travis County D.A. has not contacted us for any reason related to this investigation. Any attempt to say we have slowed or otherwise impeded the investigation is absolutely false.”

WCSO said it “participated fully” in the Austin Police Department’s investigation, and that APD’s investigation was then forwarded to the Travis County DA.

Moore’s office said Tuesday, “The investigation of the Javier Ambler case was conducted by the Austin Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) with our oversight, as is the process in all cases per our Memorandum of Understanding with APD. I stand on my representations regarding the lack of cooperation with SIU.”

“In terms of LIVE PD footage, as a department, we do not control the footage. However, I join the Travis County D.A. in requesting that LIVE PD make any existing footage available for review by Travis County prosecutors,” WCSO said.

A&E Network released a statement to KXAN on Tuesday, claiming investigators didn’t ask for the footage, and didn’t retain the unaired footage after the conclusion of the investigation.

“Video of the tragic death of Javier Ambler was captured by body cams worn on the officers involved as well by the producers of Live PD who were riding with certain officers involved. The incident did not occur while Live PD was on the air but rather during the show’s hiatus, when producers are regularly out in the field gathering footage. The footage never aired on Live PD per A&E’s standards and practices because it involved a fatality.  Immediately after the incident, the Austin Police Department conducted an investigation using the body cam footage they had from the officers. Contrary to many incorrect reports, neither A&E nor the producers of Live PD were asked for the footage or an interview by investigators from law enforcement or the District Attorney’s office. As is the case with all footage taken by Live PD producers, we no longer retained the unaired footage after learning that the investigation had concluded. As with all calls we follow, we are not there to be an arm of the police or law enforcement but rather to chronicle what they do and air some of that footage and our policies were in place to avoid having footage used by law enforcement against private citizens.”

A&E Network Statement

Williamson County commissioners filed a lawsuit last month in an attempt to stop Sheriff Robert Chody and Live PD from filming in the county.

According to a custodial death report filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, the manner of Ambler’s death was ruled a homicide with the cause of death listed as “congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with morbid obesity, in combination with forcible restraint.”

The report also said lymphocytic myocarditis could have been a contributing condition to Ambler’s death. At no time during the incident did Ambler appear intoxicated, the report said.

A summary of Williamson County deputies’ pursuit of Ambler said he was observed colliding with several objects off the roadway. After a collision in north Austin, Ambler exited his vehicle but did not comply with verbal commands. Two deputies deployed individual tasers but once Ambler was in custody, he was unresponsive.

Jeff Edwards, an attorney representing the Ambler family, said it’s fair to question Javier Ambler’s decision to evade police but that doesn’t justify his death.

“(The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office’s) conclusion was not that this sickens me, this disgusts me and we can no longer tolerate this in our society,” Edwards said. “Their conclusion was there’s nothing to see here, that’s reasonable.”

Live PD has not responded to requests for comment.

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