A new law in Texas will prevent reality TV shows from partnering with state law enforcement, after a man died in 2019 while in police custody as cameras from the show “Live PD” filmed his arrest.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed the Javier Ambler Act into law on Wednesday, effective immediately.
The bill passed in the Texas House 110 to 34 on April 15 and passed in the Senate on May 13 with a 27 to 3 vote.
Javier Ambler II, 40, died on March 28, 2019. He was chased by Williamson County deputies after he failed to dim his headlights. Crews from the show “Live PD”, which is now canceled, followed the 22-minute chase with cameras, The Associated Press reported.
Deputies then used stun guns on Ambler, a former postal worker. He shouted at officers that he had a heart condition and could not breathe and died, per AP.
State Rep. James Talarico put forward the proposal for the bill and said Wednesday: “Policing is not entertainment,” local ABC affiliate KVUE reported.
“I’m proud that Democrats and Republicans came together to pass this bill to protect our citizens and restore integrity in law enforcement,” he said.
He cited an investigation by The Austin American-Statesman, which reported law enforcement officers in Williamson County, Texas, were more violent when “Live PD” cameras were rolling.
That report analyzed 124 use-of-force reports by Williamson County sheriff’s deputies and found that the number of violent encounters nearly doubled from 43 in 2017, the year before “Live PD” joined the agency, to 82 in 2019.
The A&E network said its video of Ambler’s arrest never aired because of a policy against showing a death, and it did not keep the footage after it was informed that the initial investigation had closed, AP reported.
Last year, nationally broadcast policing show “Cops” and Live PD” were canceled amid outcry over police brutality and what some critics deemed as the glamorizing of officers on such shows following the police killing of George Floyd.
Former Williamson County Sheriff’s deputies James Johnson, 36, and Zachary Camden, 26, were both charged with second-degree manslaughter in Ambler’s death, Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza announced in March.
At the time, defense attorneys for the former deputies dismissed the indictments as a political ploy, claiming Ambler died of heart disease and by “physical exertion in resisting” the deputies.
“Mr. Johnson and Mr. Camden are neither morally nor legally responsible for his death,” attorneys Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell said to AP. “We are requesting a trial as soon possible where we can ensure politics, campaign promises, and sensationalized media portrayals will not distort the truth of what occurred.”
Former Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody was also indicted in September 2020 on charges of destroying or concealing video in an investigation into Ambler’s death and he pleaded not guilty. Former Williamson County attorney general counsel Jason Nassour was also indicted on an evidence tampering charge in Williamson County, local ABC affiliate KVUE. He also pleaded not guilty.
Then in late March and April, Chody and Nassour were indicted for tampering with physical evidence in Ambler’s death in Travis County, Garza announced.
Also on Tuesday, the state House passed SB 69, a bill that bans police officers from using chokeholds during an arrest and applying pressure to someone’s throat, neck or torso in ways that can prohibit breathing or blood flow.
Jeff Edwards of the Edwards Law Groups, which represents Ambler’s parents, praised the new law and said Ambler’s death could be blamed on officers performing for the cameras.
“Javier Ambler was killed because Williamson County deputies were encouraged to produce exciting reality television instead of simply protecting and serving the public,” Edwards told ABC News. “The legislation Gov. Abbott signed today will prevent cities and counties from misguidedly using their police forces and sheriffs’ offices to create reality television. While its passage was too late to save Javier Ambler’s life, it will undoubtedly prevent similar tragedies in the future.”