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OCT 2020 Blues Vol. 36 No. 10

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OCT 2020 Blues Vol. 36 No. 10

Williamson County

Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody indicted in Javier Ambler case REPRINTED FROM AUSTIN AMERICAN STATESMAN ROUND ROCK — A Williamson County grand jury has indicted Sheriff Robert Chody on an evidence tampering charge in the destruction of reality TV show footage that showed deputies chasing and using force on a Black man who died last year. Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick and Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore opened a joint investigation in June, a week after the American-Statesman and KVUE- TV revealed details of Javier Ambler II’s death and reported that “Live PD” had destroyed its footage. Additional criminal charges against Chody could be in the offing, as Moore said she is also pursuing felony evidence tampering charges against the sheriff related to events that happened in Travis County on the night Ambler died. Former Williamson County general counsel Jason Nassour, who was at the scene of the deadly March 2019 incident, also was indicted on an evidence tampering charge. The charge, a third-degree felony, is punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. During a press conference Monday, Chody accused Moore and Dick of colluding in a politically fueled conspiracy to falsely prosecute him. Chody is facing a Democratic challenger in the Nov. 3 election. “I did not tamper with evidence,” Chody said. “We are now at one month from the election and the DA is just now acting in a case that is nearly two years old.” Nassour’s lawyer, Joe Turner, said his client “is the most ethical attorney around.” “Everyone who knows him is shocked by this,” Turner said. Dick, at a separate press conference on Monday, said a grand jury indicted Chody and Nassour on Friday after hearing testimony from 19 witnesses. “I have thought long and hard about the timing, and let’s make it very clear: We didn’t choose this timing,” Dick said. “The incident happened a long time ago, but the Williamson County district attorney’s office was just notified in May 2020 of the death of Javier Ambler.” Moore said a Travis County grand jury would start to hear evidence in early November. The indictments follow weeks of grand jury investigation that included testimony from deputies and others who were at the scene the night of Ambler’s death. Chody turned himself in Monday at the Williamson County Jail, which he oversees. His bail was set at $10,000. Prosecutors said they could not disclose what they learned about Chody’s role in the video destruction because of the ongoing case. Indicted officials are allowed to continue to serve under Texas law but can be removed from office if they are convicted. Ambler, a 40-year-old former postal employee, died after Deputies J.J. Johnson and Zach Camden chased him for 22 minutes in a pursuit that started because Ambler did not dim his headlights. Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody is seen leaving a press conference with his attorney Gerry Morris (LEFT). Photo by Bronte Wittpenn/American-Statesman. During the chase, Ambler crashed his car multiple times before it was disabled in a North Austin neighborhood. Deputies used Tasers on Ambler four times as he gasped that he had a heart condition and could not breathe. He died minutes later. What is known about Ambler’s final moments came mostly from the body camera video of an Austin police officer. “Live PD” crews accompanied both Williamson County deputies and filmed the incident. Prosecutors have said that footage likely offered the clearest perspective of the encounter. Investigators told the Statesman this spring that they had been working for months to obtain the video and believed Williamson County sheriff’s officials and “Live PD” had stonewalled the investigation by refusing to release it. Investigators have declined to say how they tried to obtain the footage. Chody accused Moore and Dick of unnecessarily prolonging the investigation, saying that if they believed the video was key to the case, they should have aggressively pursued it sooner. The contract between Williamson County and “Live PD” producers in place at the time of Ambler’s death allowed the show to destroy unaired footage within 30 days unless a court order or other state or federal law required it to be retained. “Live PD” host Dan Abrams said in television interviews and in a post on his website that sheriff’s officials initially asked producers to preserve the video. Two months after Ambler’s death, Chody told them the investigation was completed. At that point, Abrams said, producers destroyed the video. In public statements, Chody has never described his knowledge about the video. For months, his office fought *PAGE 20 18 The BLUES POLICE MAGAZINE The BLUES POLICE MAGAZINE 19

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