Indicted sheriff in Javier Ambler case makes first court appearance

Southwest

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (NewsNation Now) — Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody made his first court appearance Monday after being indicted for evidence tampering in connection to the death of Javier Ambler.

Chody, wearing a blue pullover and a black mask, was seated at a conference room table beside his attorney, Gerry Morris. Williamson County prohibited the public from recording audio or video of the streamed hearing, which would traditionally be held in a public courtroom.

The hearing comes after Chody and his co-defendant, Jason Nassour, were each indicted on one count of Tampering with or Fabricating Physical Evidence with Intent to Impair the use of the Evidence on Sept. 25. The charge is a felony in Texas.

Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and former Williamson County Attorney General Counsel Jason Nassour were indicted on Sept. 25, 2020 each on one count of evidence tampering from the March 2019 in-custody death of Javier Ambler.

Javier Ambler died in police custody in March 2019 when WCSO deputies pursued Ambler on a chase after he reportedly failed to dim his headlights for oncoming traffic. The chase led all the way into Austin at around 1:30 a.m.

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said initial findings in the investigations show that Ambler notified officers he had a congenital heart defect before he was tased four times. In body camera footage from Austin Police Department — who also responded to the scene — Ambler can be heard saying, “I have congestive heart failure,” and “I can’t breathe.”

Ambler died about an hour after his arrest.

Both Nassour and Chody pleaded not guilty to the evidence tampering charges. Chody alleged the indictment was used as a political hit to impact his reelection effort, which Chody lost. Sheriff-elect Mike Gleason beat Chody by 33,242 votes in the Nov. 3 election.

Chody will remain in office until his term expires on Dec. 31, 2020.  

Nassour worked as Williamson County Attorney Dee Hobbs’ general counsel at the time the crimes Nassour is accused of were committed.

Most of the 18-minute-long hearing consisted of Chody and Nassour’s defense teams asking to have evidence collected against the men turned over to them. The defense teams also wanted transcripts of grand jury testimony that resulted in the indictments.

“To date, we’ve been given zero discovery,” Nassour attorney Joseph Turner told Judge Sid Harle. Turner said prosecutors have not turned over any of the offense reports filed by Austin police investigators from the scene. “We don’t have any of that discovery whatsoever.”

Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick told the judge he could not turn over the evidence Chody and Nassour wanted related to the grand jury without permission of the court and the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.

“They are actively in the middle of their grand jury investigation,” Dick said during the hearing Monday.

Dick confirmed the Travis County grand jury is currently meeting to decide whether to indict any of the actors involved in the March 2019 traffic stop and use of force that ended with the death of Javier Ambler.

Part of Travis County’s investigation deals with whether anyone tampered with evidence in the Ambler case, which Chody and Nassour were indicted on in Williamson County.

Dick said his office is planning to turn over “most of the discovery immediately” and expects to have all discovery handed over by the next court hearing set for Jan. 4, 2021.

Chody’s legal team filed five separate motions since Nov. 5. In two motions, Chody asked to have his indictment thrown out, and in the other three, he’s asking for evidence and transcripts of testimony gathered during the grand jury process in Williamson County.

Chody’s motion filed on Nov. 16 to quash the indictment argues that Dick failed to “properly allege party liability.” The indictment accused Chody of acting “individually and as a party with another,” but the charging document does not name the other person, Chody’s attorney wrote in the filing.

Chody’s motion also argues the prosecution failed to explain exactly how he committed the crime. The failure to detail this has prevented Chody from investigating “his liability as a party and prepare a defense,” the filing stated.

Chody’s team would like the indictment quashed or to have the judge force Dick to amend the indictment. Judge Harle told both sides that he would sign an order Monday granting the release of the grand jury materials used to indict Chody and Nassour.

Each of Chody and Nassour’s remaining motions will be handled during the Jan. 4, 2021 court hearing.

NewsNation Affiliate KXAN contributed to this report.

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