Chauna Thompson, deputy terminated in wake of Denny's choking death, appeals firing

HOUSTON - Chauna Thompson wants to be a Harris County sheriff’s deputy once again. 

Thompson was terminated by the Harris Co. Sheriff's Office in the wake of John Hernandez's choking death at a Denny's restaurant, and she is appealing her firing.

Thompson's attorney filed the appeal Friday, saying 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."

Her attorney, Greg Cagle, sent a letter to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez asking that she be allowed to keep her job.

In the appeal letter, Thompson's attorney claims her termination was "obviously politically motivated and done without an investigation or even an autopsy."

"It's an appeal of the termination,” said Cagle. "She didn't engage in any misconduct. The allegation from the sheriff is that she kind of fail to act. That she should have recognized and told her husband to get off. And I mean I think it's apparent from the video that's been released that she does recognize at some point that Mr. Hernandez is in distress, tells her husband to get off of him, and performs CPR on Mr. Hernandez for an extended period of time waiting on the arrival of EMS."

The incident happened in a Denny's parking lot in east Harris County. Thompson was an off-duty Harris County sheriff's officer at the time of the incident.

Hernandez died three days after video showed Terry Thompson, Chauna Thompson's husband, using a chokehold to detain Hernandez after a confrontation between the two men.

A grand jury handed up an indictment for murder in the case. 

The charging document claims Terry Thompson, 41, caused Hernandez's death "by placing a strangulating hold on (Hernandez) and maintaining pressure while placing the weight of the defendant's body on (Hernandez)."

Her appeal letter claims the indictment "does not even articulate what action she took."

Details: John Hernandez death case: Timeline of events

Sheriff Gonzalez ordered an Internal Affairs investigation to answer questions about how the incident was handled during investigation.

After the investigation, Gonzalez approved the following disciplinary actions for some Sheriff’s Office personnel:

  • Chauna Thompson was terminated.
  • One sergeant was transferred to a new assignment, ordered to complete additional training, and suspended for five days.
  • One sergeant received a letter of documented counseling.
  • One sergeant received a letter of reprimand and was ordered to complete additional training.
  • One deputy received a one-day suspension and 30 days’ probation.

Officials said all disciplinary actions are subject to appeal to the Civil Service Commission.

A family spokesperson said they have been in contact with the Harris County Sheriff's Office and hope that Hernandez's case will bring long-term change.

“They hope that given everything that’s happened it leads to systemic changes within the Harris County, within the judicial system as a whole," said Cesar Espinoza of FIEL Houston. "And that’s something they’re currently working to, as well as at the end of the day receive justice for their loved one.”

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