HOUSTON (AP) — The actions of Texas deputies who looked into the death of a Houston man following his confrontation with an off-duty deputy and her husband will be reviewed as part of an internal affairs probe following complaints by the victim’s family that the investigation was mishandled, authorities announced on Friday.
The internal affairs investigation by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office comes as Deputy Chauna Thompson and her husband Terry Thompson were freed on bond early Friday after each was indicted for murder a day earlier in John Hernandez’s death.
Family members of the 24-year-old Hernandez have accused the sheriff’s office of conducting a shoddy investigation into his death, including not interviewing all potential witnesses.
The Thompsons are accused of causing the death of Hernandez following the May 28 confrontation outside a Denny’s restaurant in Sheldon, an unincorporated community 17 miles (27 kilometers) northeast of Houston. Hernandez died at a hospital on May 31. A medical examiner ruled that he died of lack of oxygen to the brain caused by strangulation and chest compression.
Authorities allege Terry Thompson confronted an intoxicated Hernandez after seeing him urinate in public, and placed him in a chokehold. Chauna Thompson, who was off duty, arrived later to help her husband subdue and restrain Hernandez.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said Friday that Chauna Thompson was suspended without pay following her indictment. He also said an internal affairs investigation has also been launched to review Chauna Thompson’s actions on the night of the confrontation with Hernandez, as well as the actions of the more than eight deputies who responded to the scene.
“That’s the purpose of launching an internal investigation, just to make sure we are being thorough and to protect the public’s trust,” Gonzalez said.
Earlier Friday, Hernandez’s family and local activists held a news conference outside the sheriff’s office in downtown Houston demanding such an internal affairs probe.
Randall Kallinen, an attorney for the Hernandez family, said deputies at the scene didn’t interview potential witnesses, didn’t gather cellphone video that might have been available from bystanders and initially tried to have an assault charge filed against Hernandez.
“They treated … John Hernandez as the criminal,” he said.
The lawyer for Chauna Thompson said Friday the couple had no intention of hurting Hernandez.
“They are just normal folks. They didn’t start this, they didn’t want this,” attorney Greg Cagle said.
Terry Thompson had been at the restaurant with his teenage daughter and some of her friends before the confrontation, Cagle said. Terry Thompson was punched in the eye by Hernandez after asking him to stop urinating in the parking lot outside the restaurant, the lawyer said.
Chauna Thompson was called to the scene by their daughter and found her husband on top of Hernandez.
Cellphone video recorded by an unidentified bystander and posted on local media websites shows a man who appears to be Terry Thompson lying on top of Hernandez.
Denny’s employee Melissa Trammell told reporters after her grand jury testimony on Thursday that she and others at the scene pleaded with Terry Thompson to let go of Hernandez.
“He kept holding him in a chokehold, holding him. And never would let him go after (Hernandez was) turning blue,” Trammell said.
Cagle said when Chauna Thompson realized that Hernandez had stopped moving, she told her husband to get off him and she performed CPR.
He said Chauna Thompson has never had any use of force complaints during her five years as a deputy.
Attorney Scot Courtney, who is representing Terry Thompson, said there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant a murder indictment against his client, and that Terry Thompson did not intend to cause Hernandez’s death.
The story has been corrected to show the incident occurred on May 28 and Hernandez’s death on May 31.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70