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Commissioners Demand Williamson County Sheriff's Resignation After Death Of Black Man In Custody

Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody in 2015.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
Robert Chody, then a Police Lives Matter activist, addresses the crowd outside Austin police headquarters at a rally in 2015.

Members of the Williamson County Commissioner's Court are calling for Sheriff Robert Chody to resign over the death of a black Pflugerville man who was tasered during a traffic stop last year.

Sheriff's deputies said Javier Ambler, 40, was pulled over after a 22-minute chase for failing to dim his headlights to oncoming traffic. Deputies tased Ambler three times, despite video that shows him saying he had a heart condition.

At one point, Ambler says, "I can't breathe" – the same words George Floyd said while a Minneapolis police officer was kneeling on his neck, sparking nationwide protests.

The incident in Williamson County was first reported by KVUE and the Austin American-Statesman on Monday.

“I had high hopes, you know, no one wants for an elected official to fail,” Precinct One Commissioner Terry Cook said. “I know that this destroys him, and I really didn’t want to destroy him. But I can’t live like this anymore.”

Cook said there were number of reasons Chody should resign, including his involvement in multiple lawsuits and what she called “very unethical training practices." 

State Rep. James Talarico later joined the commissioners in calling for him to step down.

“His name was Javier Ambler and he deserves justice,” the Round Rock Democrat said in a press release. “I call on Sheriff Chody to resign, but this problem does not begin or end with him. Our system of policing is deeply broken. We must replace it with something new and something better.”

Ambler died while being recorded for an episode of "Live PD," a cable show Chody has said is good for community engagement despite protests and the unanimous vote of commissioners to end the contract with producers.

In a response to calls for his resignation, Chody said he will stay in his position. He called Cook “left leaning" and said he'd accept Talarico's "resignation instead.”

Groups across the area have been protesting police brutality after video was released of the death of Floyd, along with countless other black people.

“I can’t say I’m surprised or shocked, because I’m not,” Austin Justice Coalition founder Chas Moore said Tuesday. “Of course, it’s saddening. It’s infuriating. But it’s also very sad that I have to say, this isn’t new, or maybe I’m more sad that I’m not shocked and appalled by this.”

Moore called for Gov. Greg Abbott to act.

“[Ambler’s] words – I can't breathe – were the same ones that George Floyd struggled to say as he was suffocated by a police officer," he said in a statement. "Abbott said Texas would respond to George Floyd’s death. Well, Texas should have responded long ago; it would have saved Javier’s life.”

He said the community and government must rethink the role and methods of police today. That’s something Nelson Linder, president of the Austin NAACP, agreed with.

He said the case was “mishandled at every point.” Linder called for an investigation into the sheriff’s department and continuous use-of-force training for police officers.  

“I think this just shows the attitude of the Williamson County sheriff’s department, the lack of human respect for human life of black people and really a sheriff who’s out of control,” Linder said.

The sheriff’s office could not be reached for comment.  

Cook blamed "Live PD" in part for Ambler's death, saying deputies may have been acting for the sake of entertainment and not policing.

Commissioners sued Chody last month for continuing to work with producers of the show after they voted to end the contract. The case is pending.  

“Get entertainment out of law enforcement,” Cook said. “It doesn’t belong there.”

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