Texas sheriff who starred on 'Live PD' charged with evidence tampering in Black man's death

Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody declared his innocence in a defiant news conference following his release on bond.
Police Lives Matter organizer Robert Chody thanks a rally supporter in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 19, 2015.
Police Lives Matter organizer Robert Chody thanks a rally supporter in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 19, 2015.Kin Man Hui / San Antonio Express-News via AP file

A Texas sheriff who starred on the controversial reality show “Live PD” was arrested Monday on evidence tampering charges in the case of a Black man who died in police custody.

Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody is accused of destroying or concealing audio and video footage that showed his deputies pursuing and using force on Javier Ambler, 40, in March 2019, according to an indictment.

The footage was captured by Live PD cameras on the night that Ambler, a former postal worker and the father of two, died following a 22-minute car chase by Williamson County deputies.

Ambler’s death – and the questions over the destroyed "Live PD" footage – ignited a controversy that led to the cancellation of the hit A&E show in June.

Javier Ambler.via Facebook

Former Williamson County general counsel Jason Nassour is also accused of destroying the recordings “with intent to impair their ability as evidence” in the investigation of Ambler’s death.

Chody and Nassour were indicted on a felony evidence tampering charge and released on a $10,000 bond, officials said. Both men are facing between two and 10 years in prison if convicted.

The charges were brought following a months-long joint investigation involving the Austin Police Department and the district attorney offices in Williamson and Travis counties. A total of 19 witnesses were brought before the grand jury, said Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick.

"We spent several months putting all this together and presenting a large number of witnesses to the grand jury," Dick said.

A defiant Chody, speaking to the media after he was released on bond, claimed the charges were politically-motivated.

“We’re here because it's a month before the election - my election," he said.

“I find it shocking and disgusting that our district attorney uses his office for his political agenda."

“The facts are very clear and let me be very clear," Chody added. "I did not tamper with evidence.”

Chody's lawyer, Gerry Morris, called the indictment "100% baloney."

"Sheriff Chody gave no order, no direction, instituted no policy, had nothing to do with the destruction of any 'Live PD' videos, period," said Morris. "There is not a single shred of evidence that says otherwise."

Representatives for A&E did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ambler’s final moments were captured on police body cameras, but prosecutors had sought the Live PD footage because it likely offered the clearest view of the fatal confrontation.

Deputies began pursuing Ambler for allegedly failing to dim his headlights to oncoming traffic. The car chase ended in Austin where Ambler was restrained and tased at least three times.

Before losing consciousness, Ambler told the officers he had a heart condition and said he couldn’t breathe.

Ambler died of congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with morbid obesity, in combination with forcible restraint, according to a custodial death report filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

The manner of death was ruled a homicide.

An internal Williamson County investigation cleared the deputies involved in the encounter of wrongdoing. But the deputies, James Johnson and Zach Camden, remain under investigation by Austin police and Travis County prosecutors.

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said a grand jury will be empaneled in Travis County in October to begin hearing evidence related to the destruction of evidence there. The grand jury will hear evidence related to Ambler’s death beginning next year, she said.