Harris County DA's office to send fatal Denny's fight case to grand jury

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017
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The family of John Hernandez call for an arrest after deadly fight, Jessica Willey reports.

SHELDON, Texas (KTRK) -- The death of a man who was involved in an altercation with the husband of a sheriff's deputy at a Sheldon Denny's has been ruled homicide. The Harris County District Attorney's Office has received evidence from the case and will present it to a grand jury, the DA's office said.

Earlier Tuesday, ABC13 learned that Deputy Chauna Thompson, the wife of Terry Thompson, will be pulled from patrol duties starting Wednesday.

The exact reason for the change has not been released. Her attorney spoke first to ABC13.

"She was trying to help. That's what cops do," said Greg Cagle of her involvement.

Tuesday afternoon, the medical examiner's office released the cause of death for John Hernandez, saying he died from anoxic encephalopathy or lack of oxygen to the brain, due to strangulation with chest compression. The preliminary report prompted calls for action from Hernandez's family.

"They killed my nephew. We can all see it. What are you waiting for? Kim? Ed? This, I directed to you," said Hernandez's aunt Wendy Maldonado, addressing the Harris County DA Kim Ogg and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

"He was fighting for his life, not fighting back," said another relative.

On Monday, the attorney for Terry Thompson said his client did nothing illegal.

Scot Courtney said the video and others are not a complete picture of what occurred. He also told ABC13 he and the Thompson family have been getting death threats because of this case.

"They can't even let the system do a proper investigation without pulling out the pitchforks," said Courtney.

Hernandez died last week following the May 28 incident at a Denny's in Sheldon.

Investigators said Hernandez was urinating outside the restaurant and that Thompson had yelled at him to stop. Eyewitnesses told ABC13 Hernandez initiated the physical confrontation and Deputy Chauna Thomspon, off-duty and in plain clothes, drove up in the middle of it.

"All she does is try to restrain a free arm and gets on the phone and calls dispatch," Cagle said. "Obviously, you can watch the video and tell it's no one's intent for this guy to suffer any harm. The intent was for police to come and deal with an intoxicated person who assaulted someone in front of his children."

"I was pretty shocked. It's a very sad video. You're watching a man basically being killed," Attorney Jack Carroll said. "He was kicking his legs in a helpless fashion, and you could hear him gargling just begging to stop."

SEE ALSO: Timeline of deadly Denny's altercation

It is important to note again that no one in this case has been charged yet, however the Harris County Sheriff's Office is asking for oversight from the Department of Justice and Texas Rangers.

ABC13 obtained another piece of video Sunday that showed a different view of the fight and struggle from another eyewitness. They came forward after hearing Hernandez died from his injuries. He was held down by the deputy's spouse, according to witnesses.

"He has this dude in a choke-hold and he cannot breathe," an eyewitness said.

The video is difficult for Hernandez's family to watch. On Sunday, they held a vigil at Denny's restaurant in his memory. Despite heavy rain, people like Gilberto Garcia brought their families to call for justice and support the Hernandez family.

"It's not fair just because he's Mexican nobody helped him. It is because the other guy was married with the (deputy)," Garcia said.

RELATED: Deadly Denny's fight under investigation

Susanna Santana, Hernandez's cousin, said the outpouring of support is touching.

"It feels good to be heard," Santana said.

State and federal authorities have been called in to help in the investigation before the district attorney decides whether to file charges.

"I think if it were the other way around, the guy would be arrested right there," Garcia added.

Hernandez's family attorney said there's enough in the video to convict Thompson for manslaughter, at the very least, if not murder.

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