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Most pursuits start as traffic stops for Williamson County deputies

In Austin, the police department instructs officers not to start a pursuit for a traffic offense.

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas — Video from the body camera of an Austin police officer shows the moments leading up to Javier Ambler’s fatal arrest by Williamson County deputies in March 2019.

Williamson County Sheriff's Office (WCSO) deputies stopped Ambler because he didn’t dim his headlights to oncoming traffic. When he tried to get away, the deputies chased after him.

"Especially a minor traffic infraction, things like that, we have an option to just disregard and not pursue it at all," said John Bostain, the president of Command Presence.

Bostain is a veteran law enforcement officer who also worked for the FBI. Now his company trains other officers around the country.

He said it’s becoming more common for law enforcement policies to limit pursuits.

RELATED: ‘I can’t breathe!’ | Video released from 2019 death of Austin-area black man in deputies’ custody

The KVUE Defenders obtained data from Williamson County that shows that since March 2017, there have been 96 pursuits. Of those, 56 – more than half – were because of traffic stops.

"I feel that pursuits should be limited to those cases where we have some reasonable belief this person is a danger to public safety," Bostain said.

The Defenders also checked Ambler’s criminal conviction history. It shows only a few minor run-ins with the law, including traffic violations and a marijuana conviction almost 20 years ago.

"It really always does come down to public safety," Bostain said.

KVUE also obtained Williamson County’s pursuit policy, which was updated after the Ambler pursuit last year. It says deputies shouldn’t start a pursuit unless there’s an immediate need for apprehension.

The body camera video from the Ambler pursuit shows while Williamson County deputies chased Ambler, the Austin police officer did not.

RELATED: Williamson County Commissioners Court files suit against Sheriff Robert Chody over 'Live PD'

"He took off again, I’m not going to pursue," the APD officer says in the video. "I thought I could catch up because the vehicle was damaged. He’s gone."

That could be because the Austin Police Department’s policies instruct officers not to start a vehicle pursuit if someone evades arrest for a traffic offense or a non-hazardous traffic violation.

Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody wouldn’t comment on this case because it’s a pending investigation.

"Our policies have improved a great deal over the past three years I’ve been in office," Chody said during a phone call Monday. "They used to chase until the wheels fell off."

Bostain recommends law enforcement departments across the country continue taking steps to reduce vehicle pursuits.

"This is the ancient principle in policing is we are there to serve the public, and the public has a say in how we go about our profession," Bostain said.

KVUE has asked the WCSO for the department’s old policy on pursuits, which was in place when Ambler was stopped. We are waiting for their response.

On June 9, one day after KVUE released the footage relating to the death of Javier Ambler, the Williamson County Sheriff's Office released this statement: 

"While we cannot comment on the Ambler incident due to the ongoing investigation by the Travis County DA, we can correct misleading statements made by the Travis County DA. The Williamson County Sheriff's Department remains ready and willing to participate in the investigation being conducted by the Travis County DA's office. However, the Travis County DA has not contacted us for any reason related to this investigation. Any attempt to say we have slowed or otherwise impeded the investigation is absolutely false. We participated fully in the investigation launched by the Austin Police Department, the results of which have been forwarded to the Travis County DA. In terms of any 'Live PD' footage, as a department, we do not control that footage. However, I join the Travis County DA in requesting that 'Live PD' make any existing footage available for review by Travis County prosecutors."

Furthermore, Sheriff Chody added extra context to the statement, tweeting "In her scramble to justify why it has taken her office so long to address the Ambler incident, the Travis County D.A. says our Department is stonewalling. Nothing could be further from the truth. We remain ready to assist the investigation in any way."

WATCH: New video released from 2019 death of Austin-area black man in deputies' custody


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