‘I can’t breathe’: Family of Javier Ambler demands justice for his death in police custody

by | Jun 10, 2020 | Politics, Social Justice

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office has recently released bodycam footage of their fatal arrest of Javier Ambler, a 40-year-old Black man who died in police custody after being tased four times.

The graphic footage, first obtained by the Austin-American Statesman, shows police forcing handcuffs on Ambler as he repeatedly yells out “I can’t breathe” and “I have congestive heart failure” before going limp. 

“I am not resisting,” Ambler can be heard saying in the bodycam video. “Sir, I can’t breathe. … Please … Please. Save me.”

Ambler was arrested by police after allegedly leading police on a car chase because his car headlights were undimmed. 

Williamson police kept the footage from the public using the “dead suspect loophole,” a loophole in Texas public records law that allows authorities to hide the details of suspect-involved deaths from the general public. The law is meant to protect the privacy of suspects who died in police custody. Instead, it has often been used as yet another tool that allows police to avoid public accountability (Democrat lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to close the loophole during last year’s Texas legislative session). 

The recently released footage of Ambler’s desperate pleading with police — using the same words as George Floyd in his final moments — coupled with the fact that A&E’s reality show “Live PD” was filming during the time of his death, has brought calls for justice more than a year after his death. A&E has since claimed the footage has been destroyed and said the incident was never aired.

The Travis County District Attorney’s Office is currently investigating the incident. Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said this week that William County has “stonewalled” their investigation. Moore said the DA’s office plans to take the case before a grand jury next April.

In a recent statement, Williamson County Sheriff Chody denied the allegations and railed against elected officials who sought his resignation. “Across our country Democrats are turning against law enforcement and attempting to remove its funding and leadership,” he said. “Their agenda recognizes no distinction between incidents and presumes guilt before due process. I will not back down in the face of such a partisan and cynical move. I look forward to continuing to serve as the sheriff of Williamson County.”

“There was no consideration, they meant to take his life that morning,” Javier Ambler’s father told CNN said. “I would like for them to go to jail for whatever time the DA, or the jury, or the judge say they must do, because not until they go to jail and they feel like what jail feel(s), will this thing stop.”

Photo: PAUL HANDLEY/AFP via Getty Images

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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