Former deputy appealing termination after deadly Denny's fight

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Deputy appealing termination after deadly fight outside Denny's

Chauna Thompson, the former deputy fired from the Harris County Sheriff's Office after her involvement in a deadly fight at a Denny's, is appealing her termination.

Thompson's lawyer, Greg Cagle, told Eyewitness News a civil service appeal letter has been sent to appeal Thompson's firing.

The letter reads, in part:

"Deputy Thompson denies the truth of the charges made, takes exception to the legal sufficiency of the charges, and challenges the termination as action not fitting the alleged offenses or conditions. Deputy Thompson did not 'fail to take proper police action'. The indictment was obviously politically motivated and done without an investigation or even an autopsy. Deputy Thompson's indictment does not even articulate what action she took. Presumably the Sheriff's Office will refuse to provide the information necessary for Deputy Thompson to pursue a meaningful appeal."

The former deputy captured the country's attention at the end of May for her involvement in the fight that left John Hernandez dead. Cell phone footage captured her husband, Terry, on the ground with the victim putting him in a chokehold.

Hernandez died after the scuffle. Chauna was off-duty and arrived after the confrontation started, as documented on security and cell phone video.

Her termination letter read, "Clearly you failed to take proper police action and order your husband to immediately stop his actions [chokehold] against Mr. Hernandez."

"She was there for under a minute and at the very moment she realized he was having a medical issue, she told her husband to get off and then she performed CPR," Cagle said in response. He said she was fired for "inaction."

Additionally, the department announced disciplinary action against four other employees involved in the investigation after the fatal confrontation:

  • One sergeant has been transferred to a new assignment, ordered to complete additional training and suspended for five days.
  • Another sergeant received a letter of documented counseling.
  • A third sergeant received a letter of reprimand and was ordered to complete additional training.
  • A deputy received a one-day suspension and 30 days' probation.


Harris County's Internal Affairs department interviewed 32 people during the course of its investigation into the events of the evening of May 28, according to Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

"While our in-depth investigation uncovered no evidence of nefarious actions on the part of our on-duty personnel who worked the initial incident scene, we did find areas in which we must improve as a department," Gonzalez said. "I will continue reviewing best practices to implement changes aimed at improving scene management and other aspects of our operation."

Cagle said Thompson will appeal her termination to the Civil Service Commission. She and her husband are due in criminal court next in September.

"For us to get a conviction for both of them, that would be the ultimate justice [for John]," added Melissa Hernandez.

THE FIGHT

The violent confrontation took place late May 28, on the eve of Memorial Day, at a Denny's restaurant in Sheldon, an unincorporated community in northeastern Harris County.

Surveillance video from inside the restaurant shows a scuffle outside and a man wearing an orange shirt taking another man down. He then holds him down for several minutes until authorities arrive.

The man in the orange shirt was later identified as Terry Thompson. Family members identified the man beneath Thompson as 24-year-old John Hernandez.

ORIGINAL REPORT: Man left in a coma after fight involving Harris County deputy's husband


Hernandez's wife said the fight began when her husband, who was drunk, went outside the restaurant to urinate and subsequently encountered Thompson.

"They started fighting, talking [expletive] and first [Hernandez] punched [Thompson] and they started fighting. Then [Thompson] had him on the ground and would not stop choking him, just would not stop choking him," an employee at the Denny's told Eyewitness News just days after the confrontation.

Thompson told investigators that he was defending himself after taking the first punch.

The Harris County Sheriff's Office confirmed that sometime during the fight, off-duty Deputy Chauna Thompson, Terry Thompson's wife, arrived and also restrained Hernandez. The couple then noticed he wasn't breathing and "the off-duty deputy immediately began CPR and continued until EMS arrived and transported [Hernandez] to LBJ hospital for treatment."

THE AFTERMATH

Hernandez was left in a coma following the violent altercation, and he died days later after he was taken off of life support. Forensics examiners have since ruled his death a homicide, saying he died from anoxic encephalopathy or lack of oxygen to the brain, due to strangulation with chest compression.

A week later, harrowing eyewitness video emerged that gave investigators -- and the public -- a closer view of the melee that eventually claimed Hernandez's life.

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RAW VIDEO: Eyewitness video shows a closer view of deadly fight outside Denny's. (WARNING: Some viewers may find this video disturbing)



The man who shot the video claimed Chauna Thompson's daughter tried to block him from getting more video. Another man was also seen trying to get in front of the witness' cell phone, asking him to stop recording.

Upon the video's release, Terry Thompson's attorney Scot Courtney said the footage did not paint a complete picture of what occurred and maintained that the Thompsons did nothing illegal.

"They certainly don't show the beginning where Mr. Hernandez attacked my client. He was the initial aggressor," said Courtney.

Even as the widely circulated and jarring eyewitness video stirred public outrage, no charges had been filed, and Deputy Chauna Thompson remained on duty until June 6, when she was pulled from patrol duty indefinitely.

For Hernandez's family, the first break in the case came on June 7, when the Harris County District Attorney's Office announced that it would present the case surrounding Hernandez's death to a grand jury.

After a day of testimony, the grand jury indicted both Thompsons for murder in the death of Hernandez on June 8. If convicted, they could each face five years to life.

VIDEO: Thompsons indicted for murder in Denny's fight case
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Couple indicted for murder in deadly Denny's fight, Elissa Rivas reports.



"We believe that this grand jury true bill is a reflection of our community's belief that a crime occurred," Harris County DA Kim Ogg said after the indictment was handed down. "And that crime was murder and it was precipitated by Terry Thompson and his wife Deputy Chauna Thompson."

Both Thompsons surrendered to authorities that evening and bonded out hours later.

PHOTOS: Thompsons arrive at Harris County jail after indictment


After the indictment was announced, the Harris County Sheriff's Office placed Deputy Chauna Thompson on unpaid leave.

In a news conference on June 9, Hernandez's wife said she was held in the back of a sheriff's patrol vehicle and questioned for hours, while the Thompsons were free to go. She also said deputies confiscated her cell phone.

VIDEO: Hernandez family attorney blasts 'shoddy' investigation
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The wife of John Hernandez said she was held in a patrol car and questioned for four hours following the altercation that fatally injured her husband.



Hernandez family attorney Randall Kallinen said sheriff's deputies contacted the district attorney's office that evening to request that a misdemeanor assault charge be filed against a gravely injured John Hernandez.

The charge against Hernandez was provisionally accepted by the Harris County District Attorney's Office but never filed in courts because the information was incomplete, according to a spokesman for the office.

The family has also raised concerns that homicide investigators were not called to the scene of the fight despite the grave nature of Hernandez's injuries.

"They were not treated fairly. The investigation was shoddy and I feel the reason it was this way is because one of the individuals involved was the husband of a Harris County sheriff's deputy," Kallinen alleged.

"This is a high-priority administrative review, and I ask that it be conducted in a timely, thorough manner," Gonzalez said in response to the family's claims.

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Related Topics:
deadly dennys fightindictmentmurderhomicide investigationchokingharris county sheriffs officeHouston
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