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Tuesday, April 16, 2024 at 10:30 PM
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Ambler case should have ended differently

ON MY SOAPBOX
Ambler case should have ended differently

This column represents the thoughts and opinions of Jason Hennington. This is not the opinion of the Taylor Press.

On Thursday, a Travis County jury delivered a not guilty verdict in the case of two former Williamson County sheriff’s deputies charged with manslaughter in the custodial death of Javier Ambler Jr.

In March 2019, Ambler led deputies on a 20-minute chase from Williamson County to north Austin after they tried to pull him over for failing to dim his headlights. Ambler got out of his car after crashing the vehicle. Austin police also made the scene, which was being filmed by A&E’s now-defunct “Live PD” reality show.

Ambler, who weighed 400 pounds, warned deputies he had a heart condition. The lawmen tased him multiple times while trying to handcuff him. Ambler died at the scene.

The incident happened while the cameras were rolling. However, the footage mysteriously disappeared, and the deputies’ body-cam footage also was unavailable for some time. When it was released, it played a part in the indictments and joint trial of ex-deputies James Johnson and Zachary Camden.

When the body cam footage came out, I saw the raw video, which showed the entire incident. I do not believe that Ambler, 40, should have lost his life. Of course, anyone who saw the video will have their own opinion of what happened.

Yes, he led them on a chase, but he also told them he suffered from ill health when he stepped out of the car. That is a major part of the story.

During the trial, the ex-deputies’ defense teams brought in an attorney and tased him to show that being restrained in such a fashion should not kill someone. However, the person being tased was much smaller and did not have cardiac issues.

In addition, this person was only tased once, while Ambler was tased multiple times, according to testimony during the two-week proceedings.

No matter what the prosecutor presented, the jury of six men and six women felt no crime occurred. The verdict has to be unanimous.

I saw a crime. I saw a man give little resistance who was begging for his life. I saw a man — a father of two and an Army veteran — go to the ground after being tased once and still being punished after he complied.

I did not see corrupt deputies, but I did see peace officers who lacked compassion for a victim.

Ambler was a large man, which could have been intimidating, but he was not a threat. He did not have a weapon, nor was he aggressive or trying to attack the law officers.

Ambler was not a threat. As a resident, I think the deputies went too far. Not all men and women wearing the badge would make the decision they did. I believe the outcome could have been different, and Ambler would still be alive.

As a Black man, what happened in 2019 still makes me nervous, even more than I already am. I worry that an encounter with law enforcement could mean anything that I do might be considered a threat or result in me losing my life. This is a conversation my parents had with me when I was a child. I’ve had a similar conversation with my daughters.

Do I fear police or sheriff’s deputies? No. I understand what their jobs are. I deal with law enforcement on a daily basis as a newsman and I respect how difficult their job can be. But I also understand there are other possible outcomes based on my actions, even if I am complying.

Was this case racially motivated? There is no indication from the evidence presented that it was, and one of the exdeputies is also Black. However, in the social media-sharing world we live in, the narrative could easily be altered. I won’t be surprised if this verdict leads to protests.

I pray it doesn’t, and I pray Ambler’s family gets the resolution and closure they need. In December of 2021, Ambler’s family received a settlement of $1 million each to his parents and $1.5 million to each of his children. His father hugged the two deputies after the verdict was announced, which could be a sign of forgiveness.

I’m going to get off my soapbox and explain to the girls that since I don’t have my beach body, we may not make it to the waves until the summer.

“This is the time that I really miss being in my courtroom because I believe that that’s the last place in this country where there’s supposed to be fairness.” 

— Star Jones


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