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Tuesday, April 16, 2024 at 9:10 PM
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Former deputies acquitted in Javier Ambler death

Former deputies acquitted in Javier Ambler death
Two former Williamson County Sheriff’s Deputies, Zachary Camden (left) and James Johnson were acquitted for the 2019 death of Javier Ambler. Photo courtesy of the Austin Police Department

AUSTIN — A Travis County jury of six men and six women has unanimously voted to acquit former Williamson County detectives James Johnson and Zachary Camden in the 2019 use-of-force death of Javier Ambler II. 

The verdict came after nine days of testimony. Closing arguments ended Thursday afternoon, and the jury deliberated for just a few hours, returning Thursday evening with the not guilty verdict. 

“What happened was a tragedy, but it was not a crime,” defense attorney Doug O’Connell told jurors earlier this week. 

The attorney wasted no time in letting the jury know the defense would be trying prove Ambler’s death was a direct result of his health, and that the actions taken by law enforcement were fully in line with approved practices and training.

In the final days of the trial, the defense called on Ben Bloodworth, an instructor at Axon, a company that produces Tasers. Bloodworth demonstrated the effects of a Taser on defense attorney Ken Ervin in front of the jury. 

Ervin was supported by two men while Bloodworth shot him with the Taser from about six feet away for a five-second cycle. Ervin, a medium-sized man, took a few moments to recover after the shock and appeared shaken but uninjured.

The defense also called use-of-force consultant Mark Sawa, a former Travis County deputy, to testify. Sawa said the officers used appropriate and necessary force in the situation. 

“Mr. Ambler was an immediate threat to the officers on the scene,” Sawa said. “Proper aid cannot be rendered until a scene is controlled. Proper aid cannot be rendered to someone until they are controlled.”

Anthony Ramirez, the Williamson County deputy and certified Taser instructor who trained Camden and Johnson on the use of Tasers, confirmed that the deputies acted as they were trained.

Ramirez stated that it is appropriate to use a Taser after a car chase because law enforcement does not know if the suspect has a weapon, and officers are trained to use whatever reasonable force is needed to properly put handcuffs on.

In March 2019, Ambler led Camden and Johnson on a 20-minute chase after they tried to pull him over for failing to dim his headlights. Ambler exited his car after crashing and deputies tased him multiple times while trying to handcuff him. The 40-year-old Ambler, who weighed 400 pounds and had heart disease, died at the scene. 

In his closing argument, Prosecutor Dexter Gilford told the jury that many of the issues introduced during the trial had nothing to do with what happened in the two minutes that ended Ambler’s life. 

“You all know what happened out there. You’ve got the video of it,” Gilford said. “If you acquit these defendants you will necessarily have to adopt a version of how Mr. Ambler died that is simply untrue.”

Gilford told the jury, “Javier Ambler died a surrendering man, a compliant man and a begging man, and that they had all the power and authority to do something different and did not.” 

The jury had the option of finding Johnson and Camden’s guilty of manslaughter, or of the lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide or assault. 

Karen Sage, 299th District Court Judge, told the jurors if they did not feel the deputies’ actions met the criteria of the criminal indictment, they could decide the defendants acted reasonably and vote to acquit, which they ultimately did.

Families of the former deputies cried and hugged each other when the court was dismissed. Ambler’s father, Javier Ambler Sr., walked over to the former defendants and hugged both Johnson and Camden.


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