The show has been scrutinized for destroying footage of Javier Ambler, who reportedly told police that he couldn’t breathe multiple times as he was held down and tased.

By James Hibberd
June 10, 2020 at 06:50 PM EDT
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Live PD is coming under scrutiny for its handling of video evidence from a case in Texas where a black man died in police custody.

The A&E reality hit -- which is currently on hiatus in the wake of protests against police brutality and racism -- destroyed footage showing the death of 40-year-old Javier Ambler, who perished on a North Austin street 15 months ago.

As reported by the Austin American-Statesman, Ambler was driving home from a poker game on March 28, 2019, when a Williamson County sheriff’s deputy tried to pull him over for failing to dim his SUV's headlights to oncoming traffic. A 20-minute pursuit followed that crossed over into Austin and Ambler crashed his car. The deputies held Ambler down and used Tasers on him four times while trying to get him in handcuffs as Live PD filmed. Ambler told deputies he had congestive heart failure and said he couldn’t breathe multiple times ("I can't breathe ... save me..."). An autopsy reportedly determined Ambler's death was due to congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease "in combination with forceable restraint."

The case was initially dismissed by Williamson County and the deputies were cleared by an internal affairs investigation. But newly released footage (above) in the wake of George Floyd's death is causing the case to come under scrutiny. The incident was captured on the body cam footage of an Austin police officer who arrived on the scene midway through the incident.

“Video of the tragic death of Javier Ambler was captured by body cams worn on the officers involved as well by the producers of Live PD who were riding with certain officers involved," A&E said in a statement to EW. "The incident did not occur while Live PD was on the air but rather during the show’s hiatus, when producers are regularly out in the field gathering footage. The footage never aired on Live PD per A&E’s standards and practices because it involved a fatality."

A&E goes on to explain why the show destroyed the video of Ambler's death in police custody.

"Immediately after the incident, the Austin Police Department conducted an investigation using the body cam footage they had from the officers," A&E's statement continued. "Contrary to many incorrect reports, neither A&E nor the producers of Live PD were asked for the footage or an interview by investigators from law enforcement or the District Attorney’s office. As is the case with all footage taken by Live PD producers, we no longer retained the unaired footage after learning that the investigation had concluded. As with all calls we follow, we are not there to be an arm of the police or law enforcement but rather to chronicle what they do and air some of that footage and our policies were in place to avoid having footage used by law enforcement against private citizens.”

Williamson County encompasses a suburban area north of Austin. The county's Sheriff, Robert Chody, was elected after winning $85 million in the Texas lottery and had previously been frequently criticized for his relationship with the reality TV show. Given Ambler's initially minor light-dimming offense, the department has been accused of embarking on a dramatic chase for TV over safe policing and Chody is facing calls to resign.

According to the Statesman, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore plans to take the Ambler case to a grand jury. She also gave this statement to the paper: “It is of very serious concern to any of us who are in law enforcement that the decision to engage in that chase was driven by more of a need to provide entertainment than to keep Williamson County citizens safe."

The news comes on the heels of Paramount Network canceling the reality crime series Cops after 31 years. Activists have called on A&E to likewise cancel Live PD, which often ranks as the most popular cable series on Friday and Saturday nights. A&E is weighing its options with Live PD, and has paused the show from airing.

UPDATE: Hours after this story was published, A&E canceled Live PD.

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