HOUSTON – A Harris County deputy and her husband who were involved in a fatal confrontation outside a Sheldon restaurant last month said nothing as they walked to the county courthouse Tuesday – a day after a lawsuit was filed against them.
Deputy Chauna Thompson, 45, and her husband, Terry Thompson, 41, were indicted on murder charges last week in the death of John Hernandez, 24.
Hernandez died three days after the May 28 confrontation with the Thompsons outside a Denny’s restaurant. Video of the incident appeared to show Terry Thompson using a chokehold and lying on top of Hernandez while Chauna Thompson held down one of Hernandez’s arms.
Medical examiners ruled Hernandez’s death a homicide and determined he died from oxygen deprivation due to strangulation and chest compression.
Protesters were chanting and waving signs as the Thompsons walked to the courthouse for their 9 a.m. hearing. It marks the first time the couple has been in court since their indictment.
“My message is that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is dedicated to seeking justice in the death of John Hernandez and we will seek that justice through the orderly process of the courts,” David Mitcham, chief of the Trial Bureau of the DA’s office, told to reporters.
He said they did not ask for a higher bond because they felt the $100,000 bail was appropriate under the circumstances.
Chauna Thompson has been indefinitely placed on unpaid administrative leave as a Harris County sheriff’s deputy.
The Thompsons are out of jail after each of them posted a $100,000 bail.
A judge laid out the conditions for the couple’s bail conditions Tuesday morning, which include random drug tests, giving up any firearms they have
and refraining from having any contact with the Hernandez family. Such conditions are not unusual in a murder charge.
Hernandez family files suit
Hernandez’s family filed a lawsuit Monday, saying the Thompsons are responsible for his death.
While the Thompsons were at court, the Hernandez family along with its attorneys explained what’s in the lawsuit.
According to court documents, Hernandez’s parents, wife and daughter are seeking more than $1 million in damages to support the 3-year-old child.
Attorney Randall Kallinen, who represents the family, said John Hernandez was the sole breadwinner for his family.
“The daughter is growing up without a father, and somehow we must make up for that to protect her,” Kallinen said.
Kallinen said the lawsuit includes a statement from a witness that indicates Chauna Thompson knew what she was doing.
“Shut up. We’re not letting you go, you already can’t breathe, so stop making noises,” Kallinen said while reading the statement a witness is recorded as saying.
Troy Chandler, another attorney for the Hernandez family, said that statement was made by Chauna Thompson.
Chandler said claims by the Thompsons’ attorney that Hernandez was the aggressor are irrelevant to the lawsuit.
“The force he used was extremely disproportional to what John Hernandez could have done that day,” said Chandler. “So whether we except everything they say is true or not, it doesn't matter who started it (the fight), only who ended it and how they did it."
The lawsuit also stated that Terry Thompson is a trained mixed martial arts fighter and,” as a trained MMA fighter, Terry Bryan Thompson, at all times was aware of the deadly nature of certain choke holds and other means of deadly force.”
It goes on to say his wife, Chauna, “as a peace officer was at all times aware of the deadly nature of certain choke holds.”
“According to the Thompsons John Hernandez was urinating in public, in the city of Houston that is a $209 fine, not a death penalty offense and it's not upon Terry Thompson to play judge jury and executioner for something that amounts to a traffic ticket,” Chandler said.
The Thompson’s first court appearance
The Thompsons attorneys remained adamant that Terry Thompson acted in self-defense.
“I don’t think there was any intention, the intention was defending himself and others Mr. Hernandez initial aggression,” explained Scot Courtney, Terry Thompson’s attorney.
“She’s understandably upset, getting charged for the murder case, but she’s OK,” said Greg Cagle, Shauna Thompson’s attorney.
He said in the 23 years he’s been practicing, he’s never seen an indictment within 10 days.
“My client probably would not be indicted if it wasn’t for her job title,” Cagle said, regarding to Shauna’s profession as a deputy. “I don’t think anyone else would be indicted for murder for touching someone on the arm.”
Cagle was referencing Chauna Thompson next to her husband and the cellphone video which shows part of the fight.
“Mr. Thompson was not the aggressor. Mr. Thompson was the one that was struck in the face first he received a pretty significant injury to the eye,” Cagle said. “He was approached by Mr. Hernandez. He didn’t confront Mr. Hernandez. Mr. Hernandez was the one urinating, exposing himself to what would be teenagers, girls, that arrived with Mr. Thompson.”
Cagle claims Thompson told Hernandez to step back inside and use the restroom and that’s when Hernandez hit Thompson in the face.
“I would imagine he (Thompson) was blinded in his left eye, he had a significant injury to his left eye, you can still see it in his booking photo which is 11 days later, you can see the injury to his eye,” explained Cagle, who said Thompson’s finger was also broken.
Both of their attorneys said it’s been difficult and stressful for the Thompson family.
“Kind of a mob mentality. It’s very threatening it’s very personal, they feel threatened,” Courtney said, regarding the response the Thompsons have received. “This is a courthouse. This is where it’s sorted out whether or not someone committed a crime. This is not the public forum for that type of thing."
When the Thompsons left the courthouse, several protesters placed T-shirts with John Hernandez’s picture on it along the dashboard of their car. Some people also blocked the car from leaving, but a line of deputies on the street helped motion people away.
Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to accurately report the employment status of deputy Chauna Thompson.