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Trial begins for two former sheriff's deputies charged in Javier Ambler's death

A mural of Javier Ambler with the words "Never Forgotten 10/17/1978-3/28/2019."
Gabriel C. Pérez
KUT News
Two former Williamson County sheriff's deputies are on trial this week for charges in connection with the death of Javier Ambler.

The trial of two former Williamson County sheriff's deputies charged with second-degree manslaughter in Javier Ambler's death started Monday in Travis County.

Ambler, a 40-year-old Black man from Pflugerville, died in deputies' custody in March 2019 after being pursued by law enforcement for allegedly failing to dim his headlights to oncoming traffic. James Johnson and Zachary Camden are accused of tasing Ambler repeatedly while placing him in handcuffs, despite pleas from Ambler that he had a health condition and could not breathe.

Former Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody also faces an evidence tampering charge in connection with Ambler's death. Chody and Jason Nassour, the former general counsel for the Williamson County Attorney’s Office, are accused of helping destroy footage of Ambler's death that was captured for the reality television show "Live PD," which had a contract with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office at the time. The incident prompted state lawmakers to ban Texas law enforcement from entering contracts with reality television shows in 2021.

During opening statements, Holly Taylor, an attorney with the Travis County District Attorney's Office, told jurors that Johnson's and Camden's actions were "unnecessary, unreasonable and unjustified."

Taylor accused deputies' of "playing to the 'Live P.D.' cameras," noting that the deputies were being shadowed by cameramen from the reality television show the night of Ambler's death.

Johnson's defense attorney, Ken Ervin, disputed the accusation, and told jurors "all he [Ambler] had to do was dim his headlights." Instead, he said, Ambler led deputies on a 22-minute car chase, committing around a dozen traffic violations in the process.

Ervin described Johnson's and Camden's actions as completely "reasonable."

He also suggested Ambler's death was due to his health conditions. Ambler had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and morbid obesity.

Witness testimony is expected to take place through the week.

Williamson County already agreed to settle a $5 million wrongful death lawsuit filed by Ambler's family in 2021.

Kailey Hunt is KUT's Williamson County reporter. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @KaileyEHunt.
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