WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody has been indicted and arrested on a felony charge of tampering with evidence in relation to the death of Javier Ambler.
Chody was booked in the Williamson County Jail bonded out on Monday with a $10,000 bond.
The charge comes after months of calls for Chody to resign, after the in-custody death of Ambler, which was recorded during a taping of the A&E reality show “Live P.D.” The chase that ended in Javier Ambler’s death was never aired on television and all footage from the scene was destroyed.
The third-degree felony indictment, from the 277th District Court in Williamson County, claims belief that Chody acted to “destroy, or conceal a record, document, or thing; namely, video recordings and audio recordings, with intent to impair their availability as evidence in the investigation.”
Jason Nassour, general counsel for the county, has also been indicted on the same charges related to the Ambler case. According to jail records, he was booked into the Travis County Jail and since bonded out.
The death of Ambler happened back in March 2019, when WCSO deputies pursued Ambler on a chase after he reportedly failed to dim his headlights for oncoming traffic. The chase led all the way into Austin at around 1:30 a.m.
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said initial findings in the investigations show that Ambler notified officers he had a congenital heart defect before he was tased four times. In body camera footage from Austin Police Department — who also responded to the scene — Ambler can be heard saying, “I have congestive heart failure,” and “I can’t breathe.”
Moore said in June that the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office “stonewalled” the county’s investigation into the death.
“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.
WCSO responded to Moore’s claims by saying any attempts to slow or impede the investigation are “absolutely false.”
The Javier Ambler video
The existence of the missing video is all because of WCSO’s involvement in the now-cancelled A&E law enforcement reality program, “Live P.D.“
According to the show’s production company, Big Fish Entertainment, the show contract stated that the company could destroy any un-used footage within 30 days of filming.
Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick said, “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.”
In June, Chody denied accusations of a cover-up and claimed that the investigation was “motivated by politics.”
On Monday afternoon, Jeff Edwards, on of the Ambler family’s attorneys, released a statement, saying:
“Today, we learned that a reason for the slow pace of justice in this case is that Sheriff Chody allegedly acted to destroy video evidence of Mr. Ambler’s death. It seems the Sheriff was more interested in being part of a reality television program and providing entertaining video content than protecting the lives of the Black citizens he was sworn to protect. If true, such shameful behavior by a law enforcement leader is striking evidence that there needs to be a sweeping, systemic overhaul of our system of policing.”Jeff Edwards, Ambler family attorney
Robert Chody reacts
Chody hosted a briefing on Monday afternoon to give his response to the indictment, during which he claimed the indictment was spurred by personal vendettas and political motivations from Moore and Dick.
“I did not tamper with evidence,” Chody said.
“From the beginning the Javier Ambler incident has been hampered by prosecutors failing to act and then attempting to pass off responsibility for their inactions. In fact, it was only after the bodycam video of the Ambler incident was released to the public that the Travis County DA began to move on this case.”
Chody said that DA Moore had taken no action for 19 months.
“So to try to save herself during a runoff election, the DA blamed me, the Sheriff, and my office for the delay… I ask you this: why didn’t DA Moore call me personally or reach out to me during those 19-month period if she felt she was having any trouble getting anything from our office. Not one phone call. Not one email. The answer is obvious: the Travis County District Attorney dropped the ball on the investigation.”
Chody also pointed to statements previously made by ABC News anchor and host of “Live P.D.,” Dan Abrams, which Chody said vindicates WCSO.
Abrams said, according to Chody, that the show was never contacted by Dick or Moore’s offices for videos.
Chody claimed there is still no evidence he tampered with anything related to the investigation, saying: “So why are we here? Let me tell you why we’re here. We’re here because it’s a month before the election — my election.”
During the briefing, Chody claimed DA Shawn Dick was pursuing him over an incident when one of Chody’s campaign supporters mistakenly placed a re-election sign in someone’s yard — prompting the homeowner, who supported Chody’s opponent, to file a complaint that they were being intimidated.
“The DA dragged out this complaint,” Chody claimed, saying Dick told him he was considering referring the complaint to the Texas Rangers.
“All of this was over a yard sign that was mistakenly placed during a campaign,” Chody said. “As you can see, this is how petty our District Attorney Shawn Dick has been in the past so it’s no surprise that he’s continued to act in a vindictive and politically-motivated manner by seeking an indictment in this case.”
Chody ended the briefing by declaring the entire indictment an “utter collapse of the criminal justice system.”
Meanwhile, Chody’s attorney — who was interrupted by one man in the crowd who claimed to have been assaulted by WCSO — said that the Ambler case “laid on someone desk for months and then became topical after George Floyd’s death.”
On Monday afternoon, Travis County DA Moore and Williamson County DA Shawn Dick held a press conference to discuss Chody’s indictment.
Dick explained that after working with Travis County and APD’s Special Investigations, information was brought before a Williamson County grand jury, who moved to indict.
November 30 will be the first official court date for Chody and Nassour, Dick explained. A Travis County grand jury will be empaneled in late October and begin hearing evidence after January 1, 2021, Moore elaborated.
During the briefing, Dick was asked about the timing of the indictment and arrest, which came just over a month before Chody is up for re-election.
“I thought long and hard about timing. First of all, let’s be very clear: we didn’t choose this timing,” Dick said. “This incident happened a long time ago… we found some information in June of 2020 that led us to start an investigation… There is no right answer in this situation. Do you release this information before an election, or do you hold onto it until after the election?”
In a statement on Monday, State Rep. James Talarico, who represents part of Williamson County, said: “Since I learned about the senseless murder of Javier Ambler in June, I have consistently called for Sheriff Chody’s resignation. This is the same Sheriff who cut the county’s award-winning Crisis Intervention Team, promoted white supremacists in his department, and gave gift cards to his deputies for using force.”
“In response to the heinous actions of Sheriff Chody, my office has been working closely with the Ambler family to write legislation that will ban Texas police departments from working with reality TV shows like ‘Live PD,’” Talarico continued. “Our office is also supporting the Legislative Black Caucus as they finalize the George Floyd Act, a package of much-needed police reforms.”
Dick said on Monday that punishment for these crimes could range from two to 10 years.
The mugshot of Sheriff Chody on first glance does not resemble any other his department usually sends out.
He is pictured in a suit in front of a Williamson County Sheriff’s Office sign. Other arrestees photographed are in orange jail-issued clothing in front of a plain blue wall.
KXAN has reached out to ask why his mugshot is different and filed a public information request to inquire about the department’s booking photo policy. We will update this story when we hear back.