Who Was Javier Ambler? Two Former Texas Deputies Charged in Black Man's Death

Two former Texas sheriff's deputies have been charged with manslaughter in the death of Javier Ambler, a 40-year-old Black man who died in police custody in 2019.

The former Williamson County deputies—James Johnson, 36, and Zachary Camden, 26—were charged with second-degree manslaughter after a grand jury returned the indictments, said Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza in a news release on Tuesday.

Johnson, who is Black, had chased Ambler's car for 22 minutes after he allegedly failed to dim his headlights to oncoming traffic on March 28, 2019.

After Ambler crashed his vehicle, Johnson was joined by Camden, who is white. They used stun guns on Ambler several times, even as he pleaded that he had a heart condition and could not breathe.

Javier Ambler
Two former Texas deputies have been indicted on manslaughter charges in the death of Javier Ambler. Javier Ambler/Facebook

Details about the death were not widely known until KVUE-TV and the Austin American-Statesman reported on the incident in June last year—not long after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis triggered protests against police brutality across the country.

"I can't breathe," Ambler—a father of two and postal worker—was heard saying repeatedly in body camera footage captured by an Austin police officer who arrived on the scene, and published by the TV station and newspaper. The grand jury also considered charges against that officer, Michael Nissen, but chose not to indict him, Garza said.

Ambler's death was ruled a homicide. His cause of death was listed as congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with morbid obesity "in combination with forcible restraint," according to a custodial death report from the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The indictments against Johnson and Camden came as the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer accused of killing Floyd, got underway this week.

On the night of Ambler's death, Johnson and Camden were both accompanied by TV crews from Live PD, a reality show that was canceled by the A&E Network last year.

After reports about Ambler's death were published last June, it was revealed that Live PD producers had deleted the footage they had captured on that night. The producers erased the footage after Robert Chody, then sheriff of Williamson County, told them the investigation into his death was complete, according to the American-Statesman.

Chody was later indicted on a felony charge of tampering with evidence in the investigation into Ambler's death, along with the county's former general counsel, Jason Nassour.

The indictments against the former deputies were "another critical step towards justice for the Ambler family and for our community," Garza said. "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."

In a statement to KVUE-TV, Ambler's father Javier Ambler Sr. said: "We are very pleased to see that the Travis County district attorney is serious about seeking justice for our family.

"Our goal has always been to hold these officers accountable so that there are no more families who have to suffer like ours has."

Defense attorneys for Johnson and Camden have described the indictments as political and attributed Ambler's death to heart disease and his "physical exertion in resisting" arrest.

Ambler's "physical exertion in resisting the three officers it took to get him into handcuffs no doubt contributed to his medical emergency, but Mr. Johnson and Mr. Camden are neither morally nor legally responsible for his death," they said in a statement to KVUE-TV.

They added: "We are requesting a trial as soon as possible where we can ensure politics, campaign promises and sensationalized media portrayals will not distort the truth of what occurred."

Johnson and Camden were booked into a Travis County jail on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Travis County Sheriff's Office told Newsweek. They were released within an hour after posting $150,000 bonds.

The bond conditions prohibit employment with law enforcement agencies or security companies, Garza said.

Update 31/3: 8.35 a.m. ET: This article has been updated with information from the Travis County Sheriff's Office.