‘Live PD’ in-custody death video deleted, Sheriff Chody called to resign

Williamson County

WILLIAMSON COUNTY (KXAN) — Williamson County Commissioners Terry Cook and Cynthia Long want Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody to resign, both said Tuesday.

Both commissioners cited the investigation into the in-custody death of Javier Ambler in 2019. Ambler died following a pursuit by Williamson County deputies after he failed to dim his headlights for oncoming traffic. The chase was recorded by production crews for the reality show “Live PD,” although it was not shown on television. Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said WSCO and Live PD producers have not cooperated with the investigation, which Sheriff Chody disputed.

“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.

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office released a statement refuting what Moore said, saying she hasn’t contacted them about the investigation.

“Any attempt to say we have slowed or otherwise impeded the investigation is absolutely false,” the statement said. “We participated fully in the investigation launched by the Austin Police Department, the results of which have been forwarded to the Travis County DA.”

Sheriff Chody released a statement as well, doubling down that “our department remains willing to participate in the Travis County D.A.’s investigation, but we have not been asked to do so.”

In a follow-up statement Tuesday, Moore said, “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. “

Commissioner Cook’s statement said “in her strongest voice possible,” that she calls on Chody to resign.

“I have no confidence that he has the temperament, operational intelligence, administrative ability, nor the people skills to handle the job,” Cook said.

Long said she’s “outraged over the circumstances” of Ambler’s death, and “shocked at Sheriff Chody’s failure to cooperate with the investigation.”

“This occurred on Robert Chody’s watch,” Long said. “The deputies involved should be fired immediately and all involved must cooperate fully with the investigation.”

Chody addressed the two commissioners in his statement, saying Commissioner Long has requested he resign before “hearing the full set of facts.”

“In terms of Commissioner Cook, it is not surprising to me to see a left leaning member of the Court call for my resignation. Across the country, Democrats are turning against law enforcement and attempting to remove its funding and leadership. Their agenda recognizes no distinctions between incidents and presumes guilt before due process. I will not back down in the face of such a partisan and cynical move,” Chody wrote.

What happened to the ‘Live’ PD video?

Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick says the contract in effect when Ambler died stated that the show’s production company, Big Fish Entertainment, could trash any un-used footage within 30 days of filming.

“To say that this footage does or doesn’t exist — we have no idea. Only the sheriff’s office and ‘Live PD’ truly know whether it exists,” Dick said.

Williamson County District Attorney, Shawn Dick talks to KXAN’s Kaitlyn Karmout about legalities behind getting Live PD footage.

To date Dick says he has never received one minute of unaired or unedited footage from Live PD, saying the company follows New York laws that don’t require the same response as in Texas.

“It’s very frustrating, It’s what I’ve been talking about for the last year and a half. From the county that has Michael Morton,” Dick said, referring to a man who was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1987 in a Williamson County court. “We need to be better than that. We need to be the county that puts all the evidence out there for defense lawyers, that may or not be important in the case.”

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 at 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

Other responses

State Rep. James Talarico, who represents House District 52 that encompasses part of Williamson County, joined other Williamson County officials in calling for Sheriff Chody’s resignation.

“Another unarmed black man was killed by police in America. This time it was our neighbor. This time it was followed by 15 months of secrecy. This time it was filmed by a TV crew for entertainment,” Talarico said.

Talarico said Texas’ policing system is “deeply broken” and that the problem “does not begin or end” with Chody. He said the system needs to be replaced with “something new and something better,” but did not go into details.

Chody responded to Talarico in a tweet, saying “Representive Talarico has done zero for law enforcement in regards to the county in his two years in office. Another progressive who wants to defund police. I’ll accept his resignation instead.”

Primary care physician and Democratic candidate for Congress, Dr. Christine Eady Mann, also called on Chody to resign.

“As a physician, I am appalled at this blatant misinformation and distortion of medical facts. Medical Examiners have a duty as physicians to present unbiased information based on science, not participate in a process that protects those who perpetrate these crimes.The Williamson County Sheriff’s Department continues to fail this community. Incident after incident the lives of every Central Texan are endangered. Every candidate and elected official should be calling for the removal of Sheriff Robert Chody; I join Williamson County Commissioners Long and Cook in demanding his immediate resignation. This goes beyond politics & I am outraged anyone would make this a partisan issue.”

Rep. John Bucy III — who represents Texas House District 136 that includes Austin, Cedar Park, Leander and Brushy Creek — tweeted Tuesday that “the Sheriff’s Office should fully cooperate with any and all investigations into this killing and Live PD should immediately hand over all related footage so that Javier’s family and our community get the answers they deserve. he Sheriff’s Office policies and procedures that led to Javier’s death must be changed. We also must end any renewed relationship with Live PD.”

He also urged Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session to tackle police and criminal justice system reforms.

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