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'I keep a candle lit.' Javier Ambler's family focusing on justice years after his death

Ambler's father said he remains eager for the cases involving his son to see a courtroom.

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas — For a year after the death of Javier Ambler II in March 2019, his parents only knew that their 40-year-old son died in the custody of Williamson County sheriff’s deputies.

“Obviously, they were trying to keep it under the rug," his father, Javier Ambler, said.

The only video of his final moments remained secret, with then-Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and others fighting to keep it and other details from the public. It showed Ambler shouting that he could not breathe – as deputies used Tasers on him following a chase that started because he did not dim his headlights.

To this day, his mother, Maritza Ambler, won’t watch it.

"I don't want to remember my son the way it was presented. Whatever happened, that is not the image I want to keep in my mind," she said. "The image that I want to keep of my son is who he was."

"I have watched the video," his father added. "But there are parts where I have to close my eyes."

In June 2020, just as a national movement for police reform started after the murder of George Floyd, the KVUE Defenders and the Austin American-Statesman obtained the only video of what happened. His parents spoke publicly at that time, but have remained silent as the case received national attention and their son's death resulted in multiple indictments.

Ambler’s death immediately sparked outrage from Williamson County – to the state Capitol – and raised questions about the role of reality TV in policing. That night, crews from the show “Live PD” were filming deputies J.J. Johnson and Zach Camden on patrol.

“Just because of what they think was fun or some kind of fame, you know, they continued doing what they were doing," Maritza Ambler said.

In subsequent months, former Sheriff Robert Chody and Assistant County Attorney Jason Nassour were indicted on charges of evidence tampering for what officials allege was their role in destroying “Live PD” footage – a charge they deny.

A grand jury also indicted deputies Johnson and Camden on manslaughter charges – the criminal cases bringing a measure of comfort to his parents.

Each deny any criminal wrongdoing in Ambler's death. This week, a Travis County judge considered motions by attorneys representing Chody and Nassour to have the cases against them dismissed but did not rule.

"They are no longer there to impose the authority that they felt they had because they had a badge," Maritza Ambler said. "They are nobody right now. I don't know what they are doing, what kind of life they are living, but they are not in that seat they were in. That is the justice that I am getting right now."

Ambler's father said he is eager for the cases to see a courtroom.

“I'm going to buy a few ties and a few white shirts, and every time they have a trial, I am planning to be there," he said.

State lawmakers last year also banned reality TV shows from partnering with Texas law enforcement. And, in December, Williamson County settled a lawsuit from the Amblers for $5 million – the highest it has ever paid to end a civil case.

"Money can go anytime," she said. "Just as fast that you had it, but the fact that they don't have the authority to be there right now, that's what makes me feel good."

Two years later, the Amblers said they still grapple with what happened to their son and confront the emotional toll every day.

“When it is time for dinner, his plate is there, and it is where he normally sits, that’s where his plate is,” his father said.

Maritza Ambler said she begins each day with the same rituals to remember her son.

“I keep a candle lit, in which I do pray for him, for his soul," she said. “I just want to let him know, yes, you may be gone, but you are not forgotten.”


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