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Texas Passes Law Prohibiting Police From Working With Reality Television Shows

By Holly Matkin and Sandy Malone

Austin, TX – Law enforcement officers across Texas are now prohibited by law from contracting with and participating in reality television shows.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed off on House Bill 54 on Wednesday, KXAN reported.

It went into effect immediately.

The measure, also known as Javier Ambler’s Law, was filed by state Representative James Talarico (D-Round Rock) in November of 2020, according to KSAT.

Ambler’s sister helped create the bill, KTBC reported.

State Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) introduced companion bill SB 223.

The state House passed the measure 110-34 in April, and the state Senate followed suit with a vote of 27-3 earlier this month, KVUE reported.

“Policing is not entertainment,” Talarico said in a press release late last year, according to KSAT. “In the tragic murder of Javier Ambler, we saw what happens when law enforcement leaders are more interested in boosting their ratings than protecting our communities.”

“I’m proud that Democrats and Republicans came together to pass this bill to protect our citizens and restore integrity in law enforcement,” he told KVUE on Wednesday.

Jeff Edwards, the attorney representing Ambler’s parents, released a statement on his clients’ behalf after Abbott signed the bill into law.

“Javier Ambler was killed because Williamson County deputies were encouraged to produce exciting reality television instead of simply protecting and serving the public,” the statement read. “As a consequence of this unconscionable decision by the County and its Sheriff, a beloved father and son was senselessly killed.”

“The legislation Gov. Abbott signed today will prevent cities and counties from misguidedly using their police forces and sheriffs’ offices to create reality television. While its passage was too late to save Javier Ambler’s life, it will undoubtedly prevent similar tragedies in the future,” Edwards wrote. “We applaud Rep. Talarico, the entire Texas legislature and Gov. Abbott for passing this bill and reminding the world what his family has always known: Javier Ambler’s life mattered and he will never be forgotten.”

Ambler, 40, died on March 28, 2019, when Big Fish Entertainment was filming “Live PD” and riding along with Williamson County Sheriff’s Deputies J.J. Johnson and Zach Camden, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

Deputy Johnson tried to stop Ambler for having failed to dim his headlights but then Ambler fled, and led police on a 22-minute chase into Travis County.

Ambler struck several stationary objects with his SUV before crashing it in North Austin, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

Deputies Johnson and Camden struggled to take Ambler into custody once he was out of the wrecked SUV.

The deputies Tased Ambler a total of four times as they struggled with him, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

The bodycam video showed Ambler told the deputies multiple times that he couldn’t breathe while lying on his stomach and attempted to struggle to his knees.

He told the deputies he suffered from cardiac problems and begged for help before he lost consciousness, the video showed.

The death in custody report filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office said Ambler hadn’t assaulted, or tried to assault, the arresting deputies, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

The report that was required to be filed with the state said Ambler hadn’t verbally threatened others or attempted to get control of any officers’ weapon during his arrest.

The medical examiner had ruled Ambler’s death was a homicide but noted that it could have been “justifiable,” the Austin American-Statesman reported.

Ambler’s autopsy report showed that he died from congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with morbid obesity “in combination with forcible restraint.”

An internal investigation conducted by the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office determined that Deputies Johnson and Camden hadn’t violated any sheriff’s department policies during the incident, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

Investigators from the district attorney’s offices in Williamson and Travis counties said tried to obtain the raw footage of the arrest from “Live PD” producers but were unsuccessful.

Big Fish Entertainment claimed the footage had been deleted after then-Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody told them the investigation had been concluded, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

And so Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick opened an evidence tampering investigation.

Williamson County lawmakers pulled the plug on the sheriff’s department’s participation in “Live PD” shortly thereafter.

Investigators from both Travis and Williamson counties complained that now-former Sheriff Chody stonewalled them and refused to cooperate, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

The former sheriff has disputed those claims.

He was indicted, along with Williamson County General Counsel Jason Nassour, in September, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

They face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the felony tampering with physical evidence charges that have been filed against them, KTBC reported.

Prosecutors have not said what actions they believed Sheriff Chody and Nassour took immediately following Ambler’s death but have said both men were on the scene.

Newly-elected Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza ran his campaign on a police accountability platform and promised to make Ambler’s death a high priority if he was elected, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

Authorities and Ambler’s family have said they believed Sheriff Chody and “Live PD” encouraged deputies to forsake good policing for the sake of dramatic television.

The grand jury brought a manslaughter indictment for both Deputy Johnson and Deputy Camden on March 29, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

The indictment was not made public until after both deputies had turned themselves in to the Travis County Jail on March 30.

“With these indictments, we have taken another critical step towards justice for the Ambler family and for our community,” Garza said in a statement. “While we can never take away the pain of the Ambler family, the grand jury has sent a clear message that no one is above the law.”

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin


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