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Texas man who died after arrest told police 'I can't breathe'

Javier Ambler died on March 28, 2019, after he was tased four times during an arrest with Williamson County Sheriff’s deputies.
Javier Ambler via Facebook
/ Source: NBC News

A Texas man who died in police custody after he was tased four times told deputies that he had heart issues and could not breathe.

Javier Ambler, who was black, died on March 28, 2019, following a 22-minute police chase that began in Williamson County around 1:30 a.m. and ended in north Austin, according to NBC affiliate KXAN in Austin. NBC News has not independently verified this report.

Williamson County deputies began chasing Ambler because he failed to dim his headlights for oncoming traffic, the outlet reported. The Austin Police Department also responded to the scene.

The A&E reality television show "Live PD" was filming sheriff's deputies when the pursuit began.

Body-camera video from an Austin police officer shows Ambler on the ground with several officers. "Give me your hands or I'm going to tase you again," an officer is heard saying in the video obtained by KXAN.

Ambler says, "I have congestive heart failure" and repeatedly says to the officers, "I can't breathe."

A death report said that Ambler died of congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with morbid obesity, in combination with forcible restraint. The manner of death was ruled a homicide and the report stated that Ambler did not appear intoxicated, according to the outlet. NBC News has not independently verified the report.

More than a year later, the death remains under investigation as the district attorney's office accuses the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office of not cooperating.

In a series of tweets on Monday, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said what should have been a routine traffic stop ended in Ambler's death. She also accused the sheriff's office of stonewalling the investigation.

"Over the last year, the District Attorney’s Office has been fighting with Williamson County Sheriff’s Office to have Live PD video footage related to Javier Ambler’s death released," Moore tweeted.

The district attorney said initial findings show that Ambler told deputies of his heart defect and was not resisting arrest.

"Regardless, Williamson County deputies tased him four times before his death," she wrote. "For the last year, Wilco has stonewalled our investigation. We planned to take this case before a grand jury in April, but bc of COVID-19 we’ll be empaneling this summer. We’re taking this case seriously & working to seek justice for Javier & his family."

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said Monday that "somebody that is guilty of not dimming their headlights just shouldn’t end up getting a death sentence."

The Austin Police Department could not immediately be reached on Tuesday, and a spokesperson for "Live PD" did not have a comment.

The Williamson County Sheriff's Office said it could not comment on Ambler's death and denied the attorney general's claims that it is delaying the investigation.

"The Williamson County Sheriff’s Department remains ready and willing to participate in the investigation being conducted by the Travis County D.A.’s office," a statement read. "However, the Travis County D.A. has not contacted us for any reason related to this investigation. Any attempt to say we have slowed or otherwise impeded the investigation is absolutely false."

The sheriff's office said Ambler hit several objects during the pursuit and crashed his car in Austin. Authorities said after exiting his vehicle Ambler did not comply with verbal commands, KXAN reported.

The Austin Statesman, citing an investigative report, said one of the sheriff's deputies used his Taser after Ambler appeared to turn toward his car door. NBC News has not seen the report.

After Ambler fell to the ground, another deputy deployed his Taser, according to the outlet. Ambler was tased two more times during the arrest before becoming unresponsive.

In the body-camera video, he appears to be unresponsive for more than five minutes before help arrives. An officer tried to perform CPR before emergency medical services arrived. Ambler was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Jeff Edwards, an attorney for the family, said the incident did not have to end in Ambler's death and the actions by the sheriff's office "sickens me."

"We can no longer tolerate this in our society," he told KXAN. “Their conclusion was there’s nothing to see here, that’s reasonable."