The show was canceled by A&E as reports emerged Live PD filmed — and then destroyed — footage of a Black man dying during an arrest in 2019.
A&E canceled “Live PD” this week amid protests about police brutality around the world, but host Dan Abrams expressed disappointment in the decision.
The choice to cancel the show also came amid reports the series had filmed an arrest in 2019 during which Javier Ambler, a Black man, died as he cried out that he couldn’t breathe. The footage — which parallels George Floyd’s death — not only never aired, but was later destroyed.
Appearing on CNN Right Now on Thursday, host Brianna Keilar asked Abrams about the disappearing footage, which he boiled down to A&E protocol.
“The policy at ‘Live PD’ had long been we keep tapes, we keep video for a few weeks and then we don’t retain it any longer. Why? Because we feared that we were going to be used by law enforcement as a video repository,” he explained. “As a place to grab videos to prosecute citizens with. We didn’t want to be that, so there was a policy in place.”
When Keilar pointed out that the opposite happened in the case of Ambler — that the footage could have helped a civilian’s case — he admitted it “would have been better to still have it.”
“Let’s be clear about something, the tape, the video was retained for three months per the request of Williamson County,” he continued. “They were investigating it, they asked ‘Live PD’ to hold onto it while that happened. They did that, they then informed ‘Live PD ‘the investigation was over. That was a year ago. That was the last anyone at ‘Live PD’ had heard about the video.”
“Looking back on it, do I wish ‘Live PD’ had retained it? Yeah,” added Abrams. “Do I wish there were more exceptions to the rule that was in place? Yeah. But the policy was in place for exactly the opposite reason people are suggesting now.”
Between seasons, “Live PD” cameras were with police in Texas as they tried to pull Ambler over for failing to dim his headlights to oncoming traffic in 2019. After he reportedly refused to pull over, police pursued him for over 20 minutes, before his Honda came to a stop when it crashed (via KVUE). He was hit with a stun gun three times, told police he had a heart condition and couldn’t breathe, before he was stunned a fourth time, lost consciousness and died at a hospital. His death was ruled a homicide, but the officers involved — who were wearing body cameras — were cleared of any wrongdoing. Travis County DA Margaret Moore plans to take the case to a grand jury, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
According to a statement from A&E, nobody requested their footage or asked for interviews with anyone involved with the show. “As is the case with all footage taken by Live PD producers, we no longer retained the unaired footage after learning that the investigation had concluded,” added the network.
Keilar asked Abrams whether “Live PD” ever considered making an exception to their rule of deleting footage “when people die.”
“There should have been,” he said. “Unfortunately, there have been a number of videos ‘Live PD’ had where people have died. We don’t show people dying on the air. The motivation here wasn’t a negative one, it wasn’t to try and hide things, it was trying to avoid becoming an arm of law enforcement.”
He added that they were already in conversations about changing policy going forward, but those talks were halted when the show was canceled. Keeping the blame on A&E for why it never aired, Abrams says — “in retrospect” — he wished they had shown footage leading up to Ambler’s death on the show.
The conversation continued after a commercial break, as Keilar criticized the show for emitting “key things” about some of their police pursuits and claimed it doesn’t show “the whole picture.” In light of the Ambler story making headlines, she asked if it made sense the show was being canceled, because of their “mistakes” with the footage.
“I don’t think ‘Live PD’ is not on the air because of that incident. Live PD is not on the air, in my view, because there’s been a massive movement in this country, which includes for many people eliminating any programming involving police,” he said. “I think when it comes to ‘Live PD,’ that’s a mistake. We were preparing to have discussions about ways we could incorporate some of this recent activity, positive activity, positive change that’s going on in the world into the show.”
He admitted the Ambler situation “was a piece” of why they were taken off the air, but also felt they would have had some blowback had they aired the footage.
“If we had aired it at the time, we would have gotten criticism. We would have been criticized for showing that event at the time,” he said. “I understand the concern about the retention of tape policy. I get that it’s hard thing to convince people of that it came from a good place … in retrospect, a year later, we should have kept it.”
Abrams said that, thanks to body cam footage, we still know what happened — but admitted that doesn’t make them totally “off the hook.” He then said people should be more concerned with investigators not requesting the footage at the time.
“Why didn’t you demand the video? Why didn’t you use it as part of your investigation?” he asked. “I’m just amazed that hasn’t been the focus or attention here, as opposed to a program that promotes transparency in policing.”
Keilar pushed back, saying Abrams’ show “doesn’t show the whole story.” She added, “I just want to be clear on that Dan, you leave stuff out. By your own admission, there are things that are not shown and communicated on the program.”
After he said there would be no way to show everything in a 3-hour show following 8 different police departments, Keilar continued to push back. Calling it an “extremely legalistic argument,” she said he gave off the impression of “hiding behind policies and washing your hands and not having a social responsibility when you’re utilizing the people, using the stories of people who are in the videos.”
“Then I think you’re not listening to what I’m saying,” he shot back, as she interjected, “Oh, I hear you loud and clear, Dan Abrams.”
He went on to say that their show — like body cameras — is accurate in showing police doing what they do. He also said he believed Keilar was “underestimating” the time, effort and “standards and practices” go into the program, comparing it to the news.
Abrams also distanced “Live PD” from “Cops,” because they followed police in real time. “I think it provided important context as there’s a call nationally for more police officers to wear body cams,” he added. “I think we’d want more ‘Live PD,’ not less.”
After the interview, Keilar then spoke with actor Sean Penn, who praised the host for how she handled Abrams.
“You do your job very well. It was great to see you challenge that used car salesman selling everything and saying nothing about what’s going on in the country right now,” he said.
Abrams, meanwhile, tweeted about some of the criticism he had been receiving since the show’s cancelation.
“I am realizing that the vast majority of people criticizing #LivePD have never watched an episode,” he wrote. “Criticize elements of the show and specific incidents. Fair enough. But most of the negative seems to be generalities which is sad.”