Deputy involved in deadly Denny's confrontation placed on leave

Family, activists call investigation ‘shoddy'

HOUSTON - The Harris County deputy who was involved in a confrontation that resulted in the death of a man was placed on administrative leave Friday, according to Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

John Hernandez, 24, died about three days after he was injured during the May 28 confrontation with Deputy Chauna Thompson and her husband, Terry, at a Denny’s restaurant in Sheldon. His death was ruled a homicide.

“They didn’t take him from us for a couple days, a couple weeks, a couple years. They took him from us forever,” said Hernandez’ cousin, Wendy Maldonado, standing along dozens outside the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Friday afternoon. “As much as we want to wish and dream that one day he’s going to pull up, like he always does, it’s never going to happen.”

Gonzalez said the deputy’s leave is pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation, and that investigation is also reviewing the conduct of the roughly eight deputies who responded to the scene.

"This is a high priority administrative review, and I have asked that it be conducted in a timely, thorough manner," Gonzalez said. "It is important to me that we conduct ourselves in a transparent manner that is worthy of our community's trust."

[WATCH: Family remembers man killed in confrontation outside restaurant]

Randall Kallinen, the attorney for the Hernandez family, stood on the steps of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center with a group of other family members and activists. He pointed what he called "many mistakes" that were made the night of the confrontation.

VIDEO: Group speaks on steps of Harris County CJC

Kallinen said homicide detectives should have been called to the scene because Hernandez was brain dead when he was taken to a hospital. He said statements should have been gathered from witnesses, as well.

“The investigation was shoddy,” Kallinen said.

Former Houston police Sgt. Shelby Stewart said there were several things these investigators did not do that are standard practice.

"The male [Terry Thompson] and the female [Chauna Thompson] that were involved -- whether they be complainants or suspects--they should have been separated, put in the back of a patrol car with their phones taken from them," said Stewart. "The reason that you do that is because you want them to give their best recollection of what happened. You don't want people to get together and create a reality that didn't happen."

Instead, Kallinen said that Hernandez’s wife was unable to accompany her husband to the hospital because deputies detained her for four hours.

"No one accused Maria of a crime, but Maria was put in the back of a squad car and her cellphone was taken," said Kallinen.

There were also concerns also echoed but the Harris County First Assistant District Attorney Tom Berg. Berg had mentioned in a Wednesday news conference that investigators at the scene failed to notify the district attorney of the condition of John Hernandez when he left the scene. Homicide was not called.

"Anytime you have a serious injury--then you call the Homicide Division because he may die the next day," said Stewart.

John Hernandez did not die at the scene. He died three days after the incident; however, Stewart said the investigators did not do their due diligence.

"The officers on scene should have talked to the ambulance people to get their estimation of what his condition was because [the investigators] are not doctors. They're not EMT's," said Stewart. "Once they got that information, they should have relayed that to the district attorney."

KPRC2 asked the sheriff to respond to these specific concerns at the news conference Gonzalez called within an hour after Hernandez's family and supporters gathered outside the Sheriff's Office--its steps barricaded with several deputies on patrol.

"We always want to conduct ourselves, as I've mentioned before with the highest standards possible, and I think it's important to review all of our actions and in light of some of those things--not only in light of those things--that's why I've made sure that I'm going to conduct a thorough and exhaustive administrative internal investigation--not only an investigation of the actions of Deputy Thompson but all involved at the scene," said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez assured the public that his office would be transparent. He also said that all sides should be looked at.

"I do want to point out, though, that a number of steps were taken at the scene," said Gonzalez. "There was a scene investigation that was conducted by the responding deputies and several steps were taken, but we still understand that there's questions, and we'll make sure that we look into that."

One of those questions--why investigators wanted to charge Hernandez the night of the fight.

"That night the deputies did call the District Attorney's Office and wanted to charge someone with a crime, and that someone was John Hernandez," Kallinen said about information he said he learned from the District Attorney's Office.

"There was an initial assault charge that was going to be filed on Mr. Hernandez. It appears to be based on the premise that some of the earlier information that Mr. Hernandez had kind of thrown the first punch," said Gonzalez. "The initial charge was a class A assault. I'm wanting to get a full review on that to determine why that determination was made, how it was presented. I want to know as well."

Gonzalez said that everyone involved deserves due process before any final action is taken.

The Thompsons were each indicted Thursday on a charge of murder in connection with Hernandez’s death. They are out of jail on $100,000 bond each. They are expected in court Tuesday.

If convicted, the Thompsons face five years to life in prison.

“I don’t have any hate in my heart, and I don’t wish the death sentence upon them, but I do wish them life in prison so they know what it feels like—what we feel, what we have to deal with for the rest of our lives,” said Maldonado.

Friday night, family and friends of Hernandez paid respects at his wake and viewing at Chapel at San Jacinto Funeral Home at 14659 East Freeway.

"It's been really hard, I mean being 24-years-old and gone,” said Maldonado. "It's been a really big struggle, I mean every day we wake up early and it’s like going to press conferences fighting for justice for John then remembering that he's gone, it's been awful, I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”

John Hernandez funeral is scheduled for Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Dominic Catholic Church at 8215 Reservoir Drive.

"He was full of life, he was a family man, I miss his spirit, he was such an outgoing person,” said Melissa Hernandez, John’s cousin.

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