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Crime & Justice

'Javier Ambler's Law' Would End Contracts Between Reality TV And Law Enforcement Agencies In Texas

A mural of Javier Ambler at Home Slice Pizza on South Congress Avenue.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Portrait artist Devon Clarkson painted a mural of Javier Ambler at Home Slice Pizza on South Congress Avenue in October.

The Texas Legislature could vote on a bill this year that would stifle relationships between law enforcement and reality television shows. The measure — House Bill 54 — was filed by state Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, who calls it “Javier Ambler’s Law.”

Javier Ambler, a 40-year-old Black man, died in March 2019, after Williamson County deputies chased him for 22 minutes for failing to dim his headlights to oncoming traffic. When they caught him, they tasered him, though he said he had a heart condition and couldn't breathe. Ambler died shortly after. The incident was captured on film for the reality television show “Live PD,” which had a contract with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office.

Talarico's bill would prohibit law enforcement agencies from entering into contracts with television crews filming reality shows.

“Policing is not entertainment,” said Talarico, who worked with Ambler's family on the bill. “And I think we saw the devastating consequences of law enforcement leaders trying to boost their own ratings rather than protect our communities.”

Ambler's sister, Kimberly Ambler, said she plans to lobby lawmakers to pass the measure during the session.

“Obviously, it's not everything, but I feel like it's a step in the right direction,” she said. “I feel like my brother's life was taken. I don't want it to be in vain. And I don't want this to happen to anyone else. So, whatever I need to do on my end, if that requires me being there, then I'm going to be there.”

Talarico said he was concerned that reality television film crews “have a concrete impact on policing and increase the number of violent interactions between law enforcement professionals and citizens.”

“As law enforcement agencies across our state suffer from a lack of funding ... we knew that law enforcement leaders would feel the temptation to contract with these reality TV shows in order to raise much needed revenue," he said. "And that's a perverse incentive."

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he would sponsor the bill in the Senate. He said the issue should have been resolved long ago, but the “stars have aligned themselves.” The momentum from last year's protests against police brutality put the issue at the forefront of people's minds, he said, which will likely help the bill gain support.

“If it's peaceful, civil, constitutionally protected protest, we need to let them know we're listening,” Whitmire said. “I think that's how our system works.”

Charley Wilkison is the executive director for CLEAT, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, which advocates for the rights of law enforcement officers. Wilkison said reality television has no place in policing and that he welcomes this legislation and any action that could elevate officers' quality of work.

“The more education and standards and training that we invest in [an officer] ... then the better their job is, so you recruit a higher level employee,” he said.

He called the reality television show and Ambler’s death an “abomination,” but added that local lawmakers should be held accountable as well, saying reforms come from the state and local level.

Mike Gleason, who beat Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody's re-election bid this year, said he supports the bill and thinks a similar statute should have already been in place. Chody was sheriff at the time of Ambler's death.

"Sometimes, we just got to get to the point where we codify common sense," Gleason said. "We finally got to write it out and say, 'Here you go. We thought you knew it. We thought you understood it. We thought you would practice it, but you've shown that you can't do that. So, here you go. Now it's a law and it has consequences.'"

Got a tip? Email Allyson Ortegon at aortegon@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @allysonortegon

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