Ex-Deputies Face Pretrial in Williamson County for 2019 Manslaughter Charges Linked to Javier Ambler's Death

Ex-Deputies Face Pretrial in Williamson County for 2019 Manslaughter Charges Linked to Javier Ambler's DeathSource: Austin Police Department
Ryan Anderson
Published on February 12, 2024

The haunting specter of a fatal 2019 encounter clouded a Williamson County courthouse on Tuesday, as former deputies Zach Camden and J.J. Johnson appeared for a pretrial hearing ahead of their upcoming trial on manslaughter charges. The charges stem from the death of Javier Ambler, a 40-year-old Black man who died after being Tased multiple times by the defendants during an attempted traffic stop that turned fatal. The grim visuals of the incident, captured on body camera footage, laid bare a man's final pleas for life that went unheeded.

The KVUE Defenders obtained and released the harrowing footage in 2020, prompting widespread outrage. Ambler, gasping for air, had cried out his inability to breathe as well as his battle with congestive heart failure, his words became a grim testament to his impending demise. In the backdrop of the fateful night, "Live PD" — a reality TV show known for tailing police officers on duty — was filming in Williamson County, capturing the actions of Camden and Johnson, a fact that Ambler's mother, Maritza Ambler, described in a bitter rebuke to KVUE in May 2022.

The narrative took another turn when questions arose about the existence, and subsequent disappearance, of the "Live PD" footage from that night. A separate scandal enveloped former Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and Assistant County Attorney Jason Nassour, both indicted on evidence tampering charges for their alleged role in destroying the footage. This allegation, which they deny, only adds to the layer of mistrust and malaise draped over the case.

During Tuesday's hearing, the focus was again on the elusive "Live PD" video. According to the KXAN testimony, the first witness, an Austin police officer involved in the chase, testified to seeing "Live PD" camera crews at the scene. Detective Erin Truho, who led the in-custody death investigation, admitted that while she was tasked with acquiring the footage, she was assured that it would be obtained by the Sheriff's Office. Truho's trust was misplaced, however, as the footage never materialized, and the case had to be concluded with a void where the video should have been.

The details of the pretrial hint at the legal maneuvers to come. Both sides are preparing for a trial that promises to dissect actions, intentions, and the unwritten cost of a chase that began over a seemingly inconsequential traffic violation. As they continue their fight in court, Ambler's legacy becomes entwined with a broader critique of police procedures and the disturbing flair for the drama seen in reality television. And as Texas lawmakers respond with legislation to prevent any further coupling of law enforcement with reality TV endeavors, Ambler's case stands as a testament to the dangerous intersections between media spectacle and public service.