Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody was indicted Monday on charges of tampering evidence in the case of Javier Ambler, a 40-year-old Black man who died in custody last year.
The indictment accuses Chody of destroying footage captured for the reality TV show “Live PD” that showed deputies chasing and using force against the Pflugerville resident. Jason Nassour, former general counsel with the county attorney's office, faces the same charge.
Chody was booked and released after posting a $10,000 bond.
His indictment was first reported by The Austin American-Statesman.
Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick and Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore opened a joint investigation in June after details of Ambler’s death were revealed by The Statesman and KVUE.
Deputies J.J. Johnson and Zach Camden chased Ambler for 22 minutes for allegedly failing to dim his headlights to oncoming traffic. When they caught Ambler, they used tasers on him four times, though he protested that he had a heart condition and could not breathe. He died shortly after.
Dick said the deputies are under investigation. Neither has been disciplined by the department.
Chody, who is up for reelection in November, denied the allegations and said he has no intention of stepping down. He suggested the indictment was "engineered." At a news conference, his attorney, Gerry Morris, called Chody a “scapegoat."
“What has happened here is Javier Ambler’s case laid on somebody’s desk for months and didn’t become topical until George Floyd’s death, and then with press reporting, it became an issue in a political campaign,” Morris said.
Chody said the sheriff’s department cooperated with the Travis County District Attorney, but it was never asked for additional information pertaining to Ambler’s case.
“The DA had taken no action for 19 months, so to try to save herself during a runoff election, the DA blamed me,” Chody said.
The Williamson County DA rebuffed the notion that the indictment was political.
"You know, obviously people that are charged with indictments always want to come up with some explanation or some sinister plot behind it," Dick said. "I think anyone that knows me knows that I'm driven very much by what's right and what's wrong and what the evidence tells us."
Moore, who leaves office in November, said she will pass the case on to the next district attorney. She said a separate grand jury would be impaneled in Austin next month.
“The first order of business will be to continue the presentation of evidence regarding the tampering case that has now been indicted here in Williamson County," she said.
Moore acknowledged it had been a lengthy process.
“I know to some people it seems too lengthy," she said, "but this is an important, critical piece of evidence, about which the public has a right to know.”
An attorney representing the Ambler family issued the following statement after the indictments were announced:
Today, we learned that a reason for the slow pace of justice in this case is that Sheriff Chody allegedly acted to destroy video evidence of Mr. Ambler’s death. It seems the Sheriff was more interested in being part of a reality television program and providing entertaining video content than protecting the lives of the Black citizens he was sworn to protect. If true, such shameful behavior by a law enforcement leader is striking evidence that there needs to be a sweeping, systemic overhaul of our system of policing.
Chody's and Nassour's first court date is set for Nov. 30.
This story has been updated.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Jason Nassour was the county attorney.