(HOUSTON) — A sheriff’s deputy in Texas was fired Friday for her alleged involvement in a deadly fight outside a Houston-area Denny’s restaurant in May.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office announced in a press release Friday that it has concluded its internal investigation of the violent altercation in a parking lot of a Denny’s restaurant on May 28 that left 24-year-old John Hernandez dead. As a result, Deputy Chauna Thompson, who faces charges in the man’s death, has been terminated.
“I have strong confidence in the leadership of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the rank-and-file deputies who put their lives on the line every day to protect our community,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said in a statement Friday afternoon. “However, we will learn from the tragic death of John Hernandez.”
Four other unnamed employees — three sergeants and one deputy — received disciplinary action for their involvement in the investigation, the sheriff’s office said.
“It was great news to us. We feel like it should have happened since day one, but it’s a step in the right direction and we’re pleased with the outcome,” Melissa Hernandez, a cousin of the victim, told ABC station KTRK-TV in Houston.
Chauna Thompson’s attorney, Greg Cagle, told KTRK-TV she was fired for “inaction.”
“They called her in, wouldn’t tell her what the meeting was about, and told her she was fired,” Cagle said.
Chauna Thompson had been put on administrative leave without pay on June 6.
A Harris County grand jury on June 8 indicted the deputy and her husband, Terry Thompson, on murder charges in the choking death of Hernandez, whom the couple encountered outside the Denny’s restaurant near Sheldon, about 17 miles from downtown Houston. Chauna Thompson was off-duty at the time, the sheriff’s office said.
According to the initial incident report, the confrontation occurred on May 28 around 11:40 p.m. after Terry Thompson pulled into the Denny’s parking lot with his children where he saw Hernandez urinating outside the restaurant. Terry Thompson approached the man, which led to the physical altercation.
Chauna Thompson arrived in a separate car to join her family at the restaurant and called authorities for assistance. The off-duty deputy then helped her husband restrain Hernandez, and they then realized the man had stopped breathing. Chauna Thompson “immediately” performed CPR on him until medics arrived and transported him to a local hospital, according to the incident report.
Hernandez later died by asphyxiation, the sheriff’s office said.
Chauna Thompson’s attorney said she and her husband had no intention of causing harm and as soon as the then-deputy saw Hernandez needed help, she rendered aid.
“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 told KTRK-TV.
According to KTRK-TV, cellphone video of the incident taken by a witness shows Chauna Thompson yelling at Hernandez to stay on the ground, cursing at him and pushing her right knee into his side. The footage also shows her husband on top of Hernandez with his arm around the man’s throat.
Scot Courtney, the attorney for Terry Thompson, said the cellphone video does not show everything that occurred.
“They certainly don’t show the beginning where Mr. Hernandez attacked my client. He was the initial aggressor,” Courtney said in a June 5 statement, according to KTRK-TV.
The Harris County sheriff said the internal investigation found “no evidence of nefarious actions on the part of our on-duty personnel” who responded to the incident.
“We did find areas in which we must improve as a department,” Gonzalez added in his statement Friday. “I will continue reviewing best practices to implement changes aimed at improving scene management and other aspects of our operation.”
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