WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas — Two former Williamson County Sheriff's Office deputies appeared in court Tuesday afternoon for an in-person hearing.
In March 2021, former deputies J.J. Johnson and Zach Camden were indicted on charges of manslaughter in connection with the death of Javier Ambler in March 2019. Ambler's death was captured by the reality TV show "Live PD."
According to KVUE Senior Reporter Tony Plohetski, Tuesday's hearing was set to address what the destruction of the "Live PD" video capturing Ambler's death means for Camden and Johnson's case. The former deputies' attorneys argue that because prosecutors have not turned over the footage – which they never received – jurors at the trial should be instructed about the one-time existence of the video and consider it favorable to Camden and Johnson.
Plohetski reports that the deputies' lawyers were expected to call witnesses to testify they saw "Live PD" filming. According to Plohetski, prosecutors are in a unique position because they cannot argue that the video isn't important, as the evidence tampering case against former Williamson County sheriff Robert Chody rests on the notion that it is critical evidence.
In court Tuesday, the lead detective testified about how she tried unsuccessfully to get the reality TV footage showing Ambler's final moments.
Austin police detective Erin Truho testified about multiple ways she worked to get the video. She largely relied on the Williamson County Sheriff's Office, which had the relationship with the show, to get it. Instead, she said the sheriff's office appeared to slow-roll her requests.
"After about six or seven days, I didn't have the 'Live PD' footage and it made me extremely uncomfortable because I knew it was evidence of the offense or the incident itself," said Truho.
The only footage that does exist from the incident is from an Austin police officer who arrived as the encounter with Deputies Johnson and Camden was occurring.
The detective also said she ultimately closed her investigation into Ambler's death in the fall of 2019 without ever seeing or getting that video. She determined that the deputies broke no laws in Ambler's death, but she said she was asked by Travis County prosecutors in June 2020 to do more follow-up on the case, just days after we KVUE and the Statesman revealed circumstances of his death.
Background on the Ambler case
Javier Ambler died in March 2019 after Williamson County deputies chased him in a pursuit that started when he failed to dim his headlights. During the 22-minute pursuit, Ambler struck several stationary objects before crossing into Travis County, where his car became disabled in North Austin.
Zach Camden arrived on the scene, and the two deputies used Tasers on Ambler multiple times as he shouted that he had congestive heart failure and could not breathe.
Ambler's death received little public attention until June 2020 when the KVUE Defenders and Austin American-Statesman obtained records in the case and body camera footage from an Austin police officer who did not participate in the pursuit but who responded to a call to help the deputies.
KVUE and the Statesman had begun looking into the case in February 2020, but the Williamson County Sheriff's Office declined to release any information. In late May, the Texas Attorney General's Office told the sheriff's office that it had no legal standing to withhold the records.
Within days of details of Ambler's death becoming public, "Live PD" confirmed it had deleted its footage of Ambler's death and Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick opened an evidence-tampering investigation. In September 2020, a Williamson County grand jury indicted Chody and the County's general counsel, Jason Nassour, on tampering charges.
KVUE reported in March 2021 that prosecutors in Travis County, where Ambler's death happened, had said they were considering similar charges against Camden and Johnson for alleged actions they took on the night of Ambler's death.
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