WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — The production company behind the now-canceled law enforcement reality show ‘Live PD’ is suing the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office and the Austin Police Department, saying its footage of the Javier Ambler arrest was unlawfully confiscated by the agencies at the scene.
The company, Big Fish Entertainment, also claims its name was smeared in the process of the investigation by the Williamson County and Travis County district attorney offices.
Almost two years ago to the date, Williamson County deputies tried to pull over Ambler for failing to dim his headlights. The chase ended within Austin city limits, and Austin police officers responded. Deputies deployed their tasers on Ambler, and body cam footage shows him telling them he couldn’t breathe.
Live PD crews were there to film. Ambler died about an hour later at the hospital.
Alleged ‘unconstitutional’ taking of footage
Big Fish says once Ambler became non-responsive, camera crews stopped filming. WCSO and APD then set up a crime scene with police tape.
“On information and belief, WCSO and APD then took the extraordinary step of jointly seizing the production crew’s cameras and footage of the incident that the crew had left in WCSO squad cars,” the lawsuit reads.
“WCSO did not have a warrant, a subpoena or even probable cause to believe that any of the Live PD crew had committed or was committing a criminal offense,” it goes on to say.
Big Fish claims crews weren’t allowed to access their cameras, belongings or footage in the cruisers for the next hour. They did finally get ahold of the footage, but Live PD chose not to air it.
“Big Fish brings this action to redress the patently illegal and unconstitutional seizure of its footage at the scene of Mr. Ambler’s tragic death,” the lawsuit reads.
The production company claims this taking of the footage hurt them in more ways than one. Big Fish says this pushed a false narrative that WCSO owned the footage and placed blame on Big Fish for allegedly “stonewalling” the investigation.
The lawsuit names the Travis County District Attorney’s Office in pushing this narrative, as well as Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick. Big Fish claims the district attorneys only really started looking into Ambler’s death a year later, after protests broke out across the country surrounding the deaths of Black people at the hands of police brutality.
No subpoena in year following Ambler’s death
Big Fish claims in the year following Ambler’s death, neither Williamson County nor Travis County served the company with a subpoena for the footage. A court order was not filed either, according to the company.
Citing its original agreement with Williamson County for filming the show, Big Fish says it was the “sole and exclusive owner” of the footage and that unaired/raw footage would be destroyed within 30 days unless a court order was issued.
Big Fish says WCSO and APD didn’t even need to confiscate the footage at all, since body and dash cameras from their own officers were recording the incident.
The company is suing for reputational damages.
KXAN reached out to both the City of Austin and Williamson County for comment on the suit. Williamson County responded, “Williamson County does not comment on current or pending litigation.” The City of Austin said it doesn’t have a statement at this time.
In addition to WCSO and APD, Big Fish is also suing Williamson County Lieutenant James David, five unidentified Williamson County deputies and five unidentified APD officers with the lawsuit.
Former Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody, who was in power at the time of Ambler’s death, faces one count of evidence tampering in connection with the case. His indictment alleges he acted to “destroy or conceal” the Live PD footage of Ambler’s arrest.
Last year, Ambler’s family also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Williamson County and the deputies involved. The family claims that WCSO pressured deputies to provide more entertaining footage for the Live PD cameras.
Also last year, Williamson County Commissioners Court voted to end its own lawsuit against Big Fish. The county claimed the company filmed inside its jurisdiction after its contract was ended by commissioners.
In the Texas House, a proposed bill that arose out of Ambler’s case is still pending. It was discussed Thursday for about 15 minutes. The bill was filed by Williamson County Democrat Rep. James Talarico and would outlaw reality television crews from working with Texas law enforcement.