Family of man who died in custody files wrongful death lawsuit against Texas county

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AUSTIN (NewsNation Now) — The family of a man who died in police custody in Austin last year has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a Texas county, NewsNation affiliate KXAN reported.

Javier Ambler died in March 2019 after he was pursued by two Williamson County sheriff’s deputies who say he failed to dim his headlights.

A more than 20-minute chase ended in Austin, and body camera video later released by the city’s police department shows Ambler trying to get onto the ground and two deputies on top of him.

In the wrongful death lawsuit filed Sunday, Ambler’s family accuses the sheriff’s deputies of killing the 40-year-old during the arrest, “as he begged ‘I can’t breathe.'”

Ambler died at the hospital about an hour after the arrest.

The body camera video showed Ambler telling the deputies multiple times that he couldn’t breathe, as the deputies yelled orders in his arrest. The video also showed a deputy with his knee in Ambler’s back as he lay face-down on the side of the road.

Ambler’s arrest was also recorded during a taping of the now-canceled A&E Network reality television show “Live PD.” The body camera footage captures two camera operators recording for the show.

The chase was never aired on television and all footage from the scene was destroyed, KXAN reported.

Just about one month ago, Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody was indicted by a grand jury for concealing evidence, namely video and audio recordings, in the criminal case.

Williamson County declined comment to KXAN, saying it “does not comment on current or pending litigation.”

In a press conference Monday, the Ambler family’s attorney said the 40-year-old was discriminated against for race and disability, claiming his obesity made it difficult for him to get onto the ground quickly enough once the chase ended.

“He was not aggressive,” said attorney Jeff Edwards. “He was trying to do his best, and he was met with a venomous assault that ended his life.”

The lawsuit also alleged that Chody “encouraged” the use of force “when it was necessary,” and would reward deputies with gift cards for using force against people they arrested. According to the lawsuit, deputies would allegedly vie for a chance to appear on “Live PD.”

“The Williamson County Sheriff’s Department essentially became a ‘Made for TV’ episode, encouraging reckless police chases, encouraging excessive force,” Edwards said.

Attorney Ben Crump added, “He is dead because he had on high beam lights, and they wanted some ratings on the television show.”

The lawsuit names Williamson County as the lone defendant. Sheriff Chody and deputies JJ Johnson and Zachary Camden are named throughout.

Chody, who is up for reelection, said in a statement that “timing of this effort seems to be politically motivated prior to Election Day.”

A law firm representing the deputies said it doesn’t “anticipate” commenting on the lawsuit.

NewsNation affiliate KXAN contributed to this report.

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