Proposed law would prohibit Texas law enforcement agencies from reality TV deals

Bill filed after Javier Ambler’s fatal encounter with Williamson County Sheriff’s deputies filmed by ‘Live PD’

"Javier Ambler's law" would keep police departments from striking deals with reality TV crews. (KSAT)

Texas District 52 Rep. James Talarico, a Democrat recently reelected to his seat in Round Rock, has filed a bill that would ban state and local police contracts with reality television crews following the death of Javier Ambler while in the custody of Williamson County Sheriff’s deputies.

Talarcio named House Bill 54 “Javier Ambler’s law," and wrote the bill with Ambler’s family, he said. Ambler was killed after he was chased by Williamson County deputies for failing to dim his headlights in March 2019. After he was stunned with a Taser and brought into custody, Ambler gasped for air and told police he had congestive heart failure. He was heard begging “Save me” and “I can’t breathe” before he was stunned a fourth time and lost consciousness.

Ambler’s death was filmed by Live PD, and the show’s organizers announced that the footage was destroyed. The show’s cancellation was announced shortly after the controversy surfaced.

An analysis by the Austin American-Statesman found that use-of-force incidents nearly doubled from 2017, the year before the agency began filming with Live PD, to 2019, when the department was heavily featured on the show. Talarico referenced that analysis when he announced the bill’s filing.

“Policing is not entertainment,” Talarico said in his news release. “In the tragic murder of Javier Ambler, we saw what happens when law enforcement leaders are more interested in boosting their ratings than protecting our communities. I hope Democrats and Republicans will come together to pass this bill to protect our citizens and restore trust in law enforcement.”

Following an investigation into Ambler’s death, Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody was arrested and charged with tampering with evidence. Chody, a Republican, was defeated by Democratic challenger Mike Gleason in the 2020 election.

Law enforcement reality television has caused issues in Bexar County, too.

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has previously been filmed for the reality television show “COPS.”

During the filming, deputies engaged in a chase that ended in a crash, injuring a San Antonio police officer.

When asked by a reporter whether he thought the fact that a TV crew riding along with BCSO deputies during the chase played a factor in why it continued, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus was clear.

“Let me be very direct in my answer,” McManus said. “The answer is yes, I do.”

The legislative session will convene in January.

About the Author:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.