A bill that seeks to outlaw reality TV crews contracting Texas law enforcement has been introduced to the House but has yet to be voted on.
The House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee decided to leave the bill pending after hearing less than 15 minutes discussion on it.
Williamson County Democrat Rep. James Talarico filed House Bill 54 to effectively cancel law enforcement from reality TV, and to prevent similar outcomes attributed to the participation of the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office with the Live PD reality show.
The WCSO was one of the departments featured on the now-cancelled show. During that time, Live PD cameras captured footage of two encounters with the department that led to the death of one man and serious injuries for another.
In the case of Javier Ambler, he died an hour after being taken into custody by Austin police officers following a vehicle pursuit caught on camera. According to KXAN News, Ambler would not dim his headlights and refused to pull over. After a chase, Ambler crashed within Austin city limits and was arrested. With Live PD camera’s rolling, Ambler told officers he couldn’t breathe and later died.
Talarico, who filed the bill following a lawsuit by the Ambler family, argued that the presence of cameras and a TV crew caused the officers to act more aggressively.
“If you watch the video, of Javier Ambler’s murder, you see officers much more aggressively than they otherwise would have if there wasn’t a reality TV crew following them around. We have to say loudly and unequivocally that policing is not entertainment,” Talarico told KXAN.
In October 2020, Ambler’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county and deputies involved in the arrest. Ambler’s attorneys accused the sheriff’s office of using “trivial” traffic offenses to provide “entertaining” content for Live PD.
However, opponents of the bill proposed an argument quite the opposite of Talarico’s.
Dylan Price, attorney with the Houston law firm Walker and Taylor, told the committee at the hearing, “I believe that the addition of camera crews does make police more accountable and less likely to break laws or use excessive force. TV shows that document police encounters serve as an undervalued resource to educate the public. These shows paint the picture of the dos and don’ts of police encounters and it shows the perspectives of police officers during such encounters.”
He also argued that a bill banning reality television crews would “limit the rights of those producing such content from exercising their free speech.”
Former Sheriff Robert Chody and Attorney Jason Nassour were indicted in September 2020 for evidence tampering in connection with the Ambler death, where they were alleged to have “destroyed or concealed” Live PD recordings of the arrest.