Texas governor signs Javier Ambler’s Law, barring law enforcement from teaming up with reality TV

Shows like “Live PD,” “Cops,” were canceled over the summer amid nationwide protests

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

Two years after he died during a violent arrest at the hands of Williamson County sheriff’s deputies, Javier Ambler’s name is now enshrined in Texas law.

On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 54, also known as Javier Ambler’s Law. Effective immediately, Texas law enforcement departments cannot authorize a television crew to film them for the purpose of creating reality television.

In March 2019, deputies sought to pull over Ambler for failing to dim his headlights. Ambler attempted to elude deputies, who were being filmed by “Live PD” during the incident.

The deputies pursued Ambler, using their stun guns to bring him 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. Though the death was filmed by the reality television crew, they later confirmed that footage of the incident was destroyed.

Ambler’s sister, Kimberly Ambler-Jones, told the New York Times that her brother would still be alive if the television crews had not been filming.

“Because they had ‘Live PD’ there, it had to be hyped up,” she said. “It had to be drama.”

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. That investigation was referenced by District 52 Rep. James Talarico, a Democrat who represents the Round Rock area and authored the bill.

“Policing is not entertainment,” Talarico previously said when he introduced this bill. “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.”

Live policing shows began to fall out of favor over the summer after nationwide protests erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Both “Live PD” and “Cops” were canceled amid those protests.

As investigators began to dig deeper into Ambler’s death, they uncovered enough evidence to charge then-Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody on two counts of tampering with evidence. Chody has previously denied any wrongdoing in connection with Ambler’s death. Following the indictment, Chody lost his reelection bid to Democrat Mike Gleason in November.

Ambler’s death was not the only instance reality television was blamed for aggressive policing in front of the cameras.

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has previously been filmed for the reality television show “COPS.” During the filming in 2019, 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 bill, first introduced in November, made its way through the legislature recently, passing in May.


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.