Criminal JusticeLocal NewsWilliamson County Sheriff Indicted by Grand Jury for Tampering with Evidence in Javier Ambler Death

The charges are associated with a March 2019 incident in which a Live PD film crew was present for the chase and eventual death of a suspect.
October 1, 2020
Williamson County Sheriff, Robert Chody, has been indicted by a grand jury on evidence tampering charges — a third-degree felony — pertaining to a death at the hands of sheriff’s deputies that occurred nearly two years ago.

Chody maintains his innocence and called the Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick’s pursuit of an indictment politically motivated.

The attorney for Chody, Gerry Morris, called the indictment “100 percent baloney…there is not a single shred of evidence that says otherwise.”

About the accusations from Chody, Dick told press Monday, “Anyone who knows me knows I make decisions on what’s right and what’s wrong and the evidence before me.”

Dick could not go into the details of his case.

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The incident involved Javier Ambler who, after an extensive car chase, died while being tased and detained by officers in March 2019.

During the chase, initiated after deputies attempted to pull Ambler over for neglecting to dim his headlights, he crashed his car multiple times before rendering it immovable.

On scene, bodycam footage from an Austin police officer shows the deputies trying to detain Ambler. After fighting the officer’s attempts to handcuff him, Ambler was tased and can be heard saying he has a congenital heart defect.

Ambler died shortly thereafter of heart failure associated with the officer’s use of force.

Dick announced the indictment alongside outgoing Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore.

An internal affairs investigation cleared the deputies of any wrongdoing.

Accompanying the deputies was a film crew with “Live PD” — a popular late-night television show aired on the network A&E featuring firsthand interactions between police and their communities.

The crew did record footage of the incident with Ambler, however, it was not part of a live show. Later on, it was erased by the show’s producers pursuant to a provision in the contract which required footage to be destroyed 30 days after unless a court ordered its subpoena.

Live PD’s host, Dan Abrams, explained that policy in a June interview with Entertainment Tonight, saying, “The reason [for the policy] is so we (Live PD) wouldn’t become part of the story; so we wouldn’t be used as an arm of law enforcement to use us as a video repository.”

“It was so we could sort of stay out of the legal system and just be chronicling police,” he added.

Abrams further said that in hindsight an exception should have been in place for a situation like this.

The footage, Abrams noted, was retained for three months at the request of the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department for its investigation. He then stated someone at the department, after three months, told Live PD they had what they needed and could erase the footage.

Chody’s attorney, Gerry Morris, told The Texan, “Sheriff Chody had no communication with Dan Abrams or anyone at Live PD and we’re not sure who he spoke to, to make such a claim.”

The DA did not begin an investigation until May 2020 when the Statesman obtained and published the APD officer’s bodycam footage.

In another June interview, Abrams took aim at the district attorney — not specifying if he was referring to Dick or Moore — saying, “The DA never asked for Live PD’s footage until this past week when it became politically expedient.”

At a press conference announcing the indictment, Dick said his office did not pick the timing, and that “the Williamson County District Attorney’s Office was just notified in May 2020” of Ambler’s death.

He emphasized to The Texan that his office was not aware of the incident until Live PD became part of the news again, thus initiating his investigation. However, Travis County’s DA office had been working the case for some time.

Dick, along with Moore, launched the joint investigation on June 19, 2020. On Monday, after hearing from 19 witnesses, the grand jury levied an indictment against Chody and Williamson County assistant attorney, Jason Nassour. A relatively preliminary step in this saga, most cases brought before the grand jury result in an indictment.

Both of the accused were arrested Monday and released on bond shortly thereafter.

After the investigation was launched, A&E canceled the show entirely.

Moore added that a grand jury will be presented evidence next month pertaining to the death of Ambler and the deputies involved.

Dick told The Texan that the next steps after the indictment are being worked through, but no formal timeline exists.

Grand juries are a very preliminary step in the process of prosecution for alleged crimes.

Correction: An original version of this article misstated that Dan Abrams said the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department requested and received the Live PD footage. We regret the error.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.