Civil Rights Attorneys Ben Crump, Antonio M. Romanucci and William Pintas join Jeff Edwards representing family of Javier Ambler II
Civil lawsuit filed against Williamson County, Texas, for death by police that was filmed for reality TV show
AUSTIN, TEXAS – Civil rights attorney Jeff Edwards is joined by Attorneys Ben Crump, Antonio M. Romanucci and William Pintas to announce the filing of a civil lawsuit on behalf of the family of Javier Ambler II, for his death in police custody on March 28, 2019. Ambler died after being tased multiple times by police. The final moments of his life were captured on video as deputies used unnecessary force to restrain him as he was pleading, “I have congestive heart failure” and “I can’t breathe.” The encounter was filmed by a video crew from the A&E Network television show Live PD. Last month, Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and the County’s general counsel were indicted for allegedly tampering with that video evidence. The federal lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the parents of Javier Ambler II, his two young sons and his estate. The lawsuit names Williamson County, Texas, because its policies and practices caused Ambler’s death.
Mr. Ambler, a father and former standout high school and college athlete, was chased by Williamson County deputies accompanied by Live PD camera crews when he allegedly did not properly dim his headlights for oncoming traffic. He lost his life in the traffic stop that followed.
The complaint states Mr. Ambler was deprived, under color of law, of his clearly established rights as secured by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The complaint seeks compensatory and special damages and costs as permitted under federal law, including the Americans With Disabilities Act, in an amount to be determined by a jury.
The deadly dynamic between police use of force and the presence of a reality television crew has been documented in a recent report by the Austin American-Statesman, which analyzed 124 use-of-force reports involving Williamson County Sheriff’s deputies, and found those violent encounters doubled from 43 in 2017 to 82 in 2019, the full year after the Live PD contract was signed by county officials. During the periods when the TV show filmed its episodes, deputies used force significantly more often than when the cameras did not join the patrol.
“Sheriff Chody and his deputies made it a greater priority to create reality television than to defend and protect the citizens of Williamson County. This was nothing short of disgusting,” said attorney Ben Crump. “The Sheriff and his department have a long history of excessive force against people of color, and this behavior dramatically increased when the TV cameras were on. They must be held accountable.”
“By emphasizing the entertainment value of law enforcement, Williamson County forgot that its mission is to protect and serve the community. As a consequence, it endorsed practices that escalated conflict and in all likelihood caused officers to continue using excessive force, when they should have been helping Mr. Ambler while he was pleading for his life,” said attorney Jeff Edwards. “It appears the county hired deputies with troubled disciplinary histories, and then failed to adequately supervise them – making the events leading to Mr. Ambler’s death much more likely to occur. While this may have served Live PD, it endangered the people of Williamson County.”
“The tragedy here is that Mr. Ambler, who had a heart condition and weighed nearly 400 pounds, did not receive assistance from deputies when he asked for medical help. Instead, he lost his life. He was unarmed and never threatened officers in any way, yet somehow, he was killed during the encounter,” said attorney Antonio M. Romanucci. “His death has been ruled a homicide, meaning death by the hands of another. He was very much alive before his encounter with police and we hold them fully responsible for his death.”
“My son’s life mattered. He mattered to his parents and family, he mattered to his friends, and, as any parent knows, he mattered to his sons. Our lives will never be the same because of this senseless tragedy and we will not rest until we receive justice in his name,” said Javier Ambler, Sr., father of Javier Ambler II.
Two Counts in the Complaint, a synopsis of each is below:
Count I– Fourth Amendment §1983 Monell Claim
- The conduct by the officers identified in this Count and described herein constituted excessive and deadly force in violation of the Fourth Amendment United States Constitution, as incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Williamson County had or ratified the following policies and/or practices in place when the Deputies killed Ambler:
- Engaging in reckless police chases, even when the suspect has only allegedly committed a trivial offense;
- Encouraging officers to perform their jobs recklessly to produce more “entertaining” video for Live PD, including encouraging officers to unnecessarily use force and excessive force;
- Using excessive force against suspects;
- Encouraging excessive force by awarding deputies gift cards and the title “WilCo Badass” for using force;
- Using excessive force against suspects to produce more “entertaining” video for Live PD;
- Requiring all suspects to lie on their stomach for restraint;
- Training officers that when a detainee says “I can’t breathe,” that they can continue to use force because the detainee is talking;
- Inadequate training and policies concerning de-escalation of force;
- Inadequate training and policies concerning police pursuits;
- Inadequate training and policies concerning handcuffing, prone restraint and positional asphyxia;
- Hiring officers who were unqualified or known to be inappropriate for law enforcement;
- Failing to terminate officers despite knowledge of repeated unconstitutional, unlawful or improper conduct; and,
- Encouraging escalation rather than de-escalation.
- Sheriff Chody was deliberately indifferent to the known and obvious consequences of these policies, practices, and customs which he was aware of, authorized, and encouraged, rather than acting to correct them.
- Likewise, Chody knew or should have known that training and encouraging his officers As policymaker to: 1) use excessive force (and otherwise provide more entertaining television for Live PD), 2) require all suspects to lay on their stomach for restraint, and 3) tell subordinates that if a suspect is able to say “I can’t breathe” that they are fine because they are talking, were all particular omissions in the County’s training and policies that would cause County employees to violate the constitutional rights of members of the public they encountered, like Ambler. Nevertheless, though Chody knew of these obvious deficiencies, he chose to continue and perpetuate dangerously flawed policies and training, and the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department hierarchy ratified Sheriff Chody and his officers’ conduct, and continue to approve and condone the actions of Deputies Johnson and Camden.
- Even after Mr. Ambler’s death, Sheriff Chody continued to create “entertainment” with Live PD through the above destructive policies, even defying the Williamson County Commissioners Court to do so.
- In any event, each of the policies delineated above was actually known, constructively known and/or ratified by Williamson County and its policymakers, including Chody, and was promulgated with deliberate indifference to Mr. Ambler’s rights under the United States Constitution. Moreover, the known and obvious consequence of these policies was that Williamson County Sheriff’s Department deputies would be placed in recurring situations in which the constitutional violations described within this complaint would result. Accordingly, these policies also made it highly predictable that the particular violations alleged here, all of which were under color of law, would result.
- Consequently, the policies delineated above were a moving force of Mr. Ambler’s constitutional deprivations and injuries, and caused him to suffer severe damages and die.
Count II – American With Disabilities Act Claim
- Under Title II of the ADA, “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by such entity.” 42 U.S.C. § 12132.
- Title II of the ADA requires public entities, like the County, to reasonably accommodate people with disabilities in all programs and services for which people with disabilities are otherwise qualified.
- Policing is a program and service provided by Williamson County for ADA purposes. Here, Johnson and Camden were providing the service of taking Ambler into custody safely.
- Mr. Ambler was a qualified individual with a disability within the meaning of the ADA in that he had physical impairments that substantially limited one or more major life activities here, the operation of his circulatory system due to his chronic congestive heart failure, and his mobility, due to his obesity.
- Johnson and Camden violated Title II of the ADA by failing to provide Mr. Ambler the reasonable accommodations that were needed and available to allow Mr. Ambler to receive the benefits of Williamson County’s programs and services. The County’s officers should have accommodated Mr. Ambler by:
- Refraining from using violence against Ambler as he had surrendered after he identified his disabilities;
- Using “big boy” or “double” handcuffs to restrain Ambler;
- Not forcing Mr. Ambler to lay on his stomach;
- Ignoring Mr. Ambler when he said, “I can’t breathe;” and,
- Using de-escalation tactics when Mr. Ambler’s physical disabilities left him unable to comply with their commands.
- Failure to provide these reasonable accommodations was illegal discrimination under the ADA, entitling Plaintiffs to compensatory relief.
About Edwards Law Group
Edwards Law Group is a boutique personal injury and civil rights firm based in Austin, Texas, that litigates high-stakes civil rights matters around the country. The firm is widely considered one of the top personal injury and civil rights firms in Texas and represents people who have suffered serious tragedies and been denied their constitutional rights. For example, Edwards Law has forced prisons to provide safe drinking water and air conditioning in the hot Texas summers, and successfully litigated numerous police misconduct cases. Jeff Edwards teaches civil rights litigation at the University of Texas School of Law. For more information visit www.edwards-law.com or call (512) 623-7727.
About Ben Crump Law
Nationally renowned civil rights and personal injury attorney Ben Crump and his national network of specialized attorneys have spearheaded a legal movement to better protect the rights of marginalized citizens. He has led landscape-changing civil rights cases and represented clients in a wide range of areas including civil rights, personal injury, labor and employment, class actions, and more. Ben Crump Law is dedicated to holding the powerful accountable. For more, visit BenCrump.com or call (800) 935-8111.
About Romanucci & Blandin, LLC
Romanucci & Blandin is a Chicago-based national trial practice committed to fighting for victims of negligence, abuse and wrongful death arising from police misconduct, corporate negligence, civil rights actions, medical malpractice, mass torts and class actions. Founded in 1998, the firm is widely recognized for representing plaintiffs in numerous practice areas including: workers’ compensation, pharmaceuticals, civil rights, police misconduct, excessive force, aviation, product liability and premises liability. For more information, please visit www.rblaw.net or call (312) 458-1000.
About Pintas & Mullins
Pintas & Mullins is a national law firm, headquartered in Chicago, which has fought for the rights of the seriously injured for more than 35 years. Its practice areas include representation for the victims of environmental injustice, nursing home abuse of seniors, medical malpractice, dangerous products and drugs, and more. Through its close association with Ben Crump law, Pintas & Mullins is a passionate advocate for those without a voice against powerful interests and bad-acting corporations. For more information please visit www.pintas.com or call (800) 935-8111.