The two officers involved in the brutal death of Javier Ambler were indicted on manslaughter charges by a Texas grand jury on Tuesday, according to The Washington Post.
Ambler’s family members and protesters have long expressed outrage at the actions of James Johnson and Zachary Camden, two former Williamson County deputies who quit this year.
“The Travis County grand jury considered all of the facts and all of the evidence in this case and ultimately decided that both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Camden should be charged with manslaughter. The differences between manslaughter and murder is about the state of mind of the person who committed the crime. Murder requires an intent and manslaughter requires a set of reckless behavior,” Travis County District Attorney José Garza told KXAN.
“What we know is that Javier Ambler, who was a father, a brother, a son, a member of our community; a person of color died in custody after deputies repeatedly tased him. After they repeatedly put hands on him, after he repeatedly let them know that he could not breathe and that he was dying,” Garza added.
Johnson and Camden, who were deputies participating in the popular Live PD TV show, began chasing Ambler on March 28, 2019, for not dimming his headlights.
According to The Washington Post, the manslaughter charges indicate that prosecutors believe the officers were acting recklessly that night because they wanted to impress the TV crew.
The two officers were seen on a police car video chasing Ambler for nearly 30 minutes before he crashed near the city of Austin. As the two officers approached the 40-year-old, he repeatedly said he had heart problems.
Johnson and Camden ignored what Ambler was saying and tased him four times. In the video, you can hear Ambler say repeatedly that he has “congestive heart failure” and “could not breathe.”
He went unconscious at the scene and was pronounced dead at a hospital an hour later. KXAN reported that on body camera footage from an Austin Police Department officer who was at the scene, two Live PD cameramen can be seen.
Ambler was not armed, had not been drinking and is the son of an Army veteran, according to KWTX.
“Unfortunately what happened in this case is not dissimilar from what’s happened far too many times in communities across the country, particularly in communities of color,” Garza said in a statement.
“With these indictments, we have taken another critical step towards justice for the Ambler family and for our community. While we can never take away the pain of the Ambler family, the grand jury has sent a clear message that no one is above the law,” Garza added.
The case has caused controversy not only because of Johnson and Camden’s actions but also because of the presence of the TV crew. News outlets found that officers were intentionally doing more dangerous things and initiating more violent car chases to appease the show’s producers.
The show, which aired on A&E, has since been canceled.
Robert Chody, the former Williamson County sheriff, and his deputies began to face backlash locally for their reckless behavior, and Chody himself was indicted on felony charges of evidence tampering last year for destroying video related to Ambler’s death, as Blavity previously reported.
The show also faced significant backlash for not releasing video of the incident despite being asked repeatedly for any footage they took that night. They also destroyed all of the footage of the incident.
“The expectations of our communities are changing, and that has been on clear display in multiple forms not just here in Travis County but all over the state and all over the country,” Garza said.
“Our community has been really clear over the last 18 months that they will not tolerate violence against members of our community no matter who commits it, regardless of the person’s job title, stature or the uniform they wear,” he added.
Both men are currently being held on a $150,000 bond. Ambler’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county in October.
“We are very pleased to see that the Travis County District Attorney is serious about seeking justice for our family. Our goal has always been to hold these officers accountable so that there are no more families who have to suffer like ours has. We sincerely thank Mr. Garza and his team, and hope they are able to secure a conviction to send the message that police officers are not above the law,” Ambler’s father, Javier Ambler, Sr., told KXAN.