HOUSTON - The investigation continues as to how and why a 24-year-old man died during an altercation between an off-duty Harris County Sheriff’s deputy, the deputy’s husband and another man, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said during a press conference.
The incident was reported around 11:30 p.m. Sunday outside a Denny’s restaurant in the 17200 block of Crosby Freeway in east Harris County.
John Hernandez was hospitalized Sunday night after he was restrained by the deputy and her husband. Hernandez’s family said that he died Wednesday night after he was removed from life support.
Gonzalez said he is reaching out to Texas Rangers and the Department of Justice in effort to remain transparent.
"I'll also be reaching out to the Texas Rangers and also to the Department of Justice to make sure that we have full transparency and to make sure that there's another set of independent eyes that will look at our investigation," Gonzalez said.
According to a spokesperson for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, the off-duty deputy’s husband, 41, arrived at the restaurant with his children and saw a 24-year-old man urinating outside the restaurant. The Sheriff’s Office said the man “verbally confronted the other male about his behavior, and a physical altercation ensued.”
A surveillance camera from inside the restaurant pointing toward the front door partially shows the incident.
In the video, John Hernandez, who is wearing a Chivas soccer team jersey, and his wife and child can be seen entering Denny’s. Moments later, it appears that Hernandez's wife is trying to stop him from leaving the restaurant.
“(Hernandez) just came in, sat down, he was so drunk he couldn't stand or sit still, he had to be moving,” said a witness who did not want to be named. “He was drunk. He was really drunk.”
The camera outside the front-door was not working, but the inside camera caught a truck rolling up to a parking spot in front of the entrance. The 41-year-old man and his three daughters are seen getting out of the car. The women go inside, but the man goes to the left and starts talking to Hernandez, who is barely seen in the video.
It’s unclear who started the physical fight, but Hernandez is on the ground seconds later and the man is on top of him. Hernandez's wife is seen running out the door with her child, along with workers and customers.
“I went outside and I got scared and I told them to stop,” said the witness "I told them to stop, stop, and (the 41-year-old) said, ‘No, because he hit me first.’ He never stopped."
The witness said the man, wearing a red muscle shirt, was on top of Hernandez for a while.
“He was punching him in the face, but at this point this guy was face up. It got to the point the guy was struggling to get out, and then he grabbed him from his neck, he shook him,” the witness said. "The guy stopped moving and he still was on top of him."
The video appears to show the 41-year-old man sitting on top of Hernandez for an extended amount of time.
He then gets up, standing next to the man on the ground, and the victim's daughters hug one another.
“The off-duty deputy arrived in a separate vehicle to meet her family at the restaurant and called for assistance from the Sheriff's
Office and emergency medical services. She then helped her husband restrain the other man. When the off-duty deputy observed that the man had stopped resisting, she and her husband stopped restraining him and then noticed that he was not breathing. The off-duty deputy immediately began CPR and continued until emergency medical services (EMS) arrived and transported the man to LBJ Hospital for treatment," according to a statement from the Harris County Sheriff Department.
Because of the camera angle, it’s hard to see what was happening on the ground, but it shows a motionless Hernandez.
Emergency crews put him on a gurney and he was taken to LBJ Hospital.
The off-duty deputy is seen wearing a blue cut-off shirt and red shorts, walking in and out of the restaurant. Her husband had a bag of ice on his left bottom jaw when deputies arrived to investigate.
"I can't explain to you how this feels. You couldn't do anything. I couldn't do anything,” the witness said. “I couldn't get in the middle. I was scared, I was shaking. I didn't know what to do. It just feels, I don't know what to tell you, it feels really bad seeing somebody that's hitting somebody else and you can't do nothing.”
Gonzalez said that while Internal Affairs is investigating the deputy’s role in the incident, she is still on active duty. He also assured that the deputy’s husband was not receiving preferential treatment because of his wife's position.
"We can look at the video footage, but ultimately a medical examiner needs to tell us this was the cause of death. This is what led to the death," Gonzalez said. "Not just that -- yes he died, but was he on top? Another health issue? And so there's different factors in these types of cases that we have to take into investigation, if not, we wouldn't be doing a thorough job."
The Harris County district attorney said Thursday that once the Sheriff’s Office completes its investigation, its civil rights prosecutors will then conduct a review to determine if criminal charges are warranted.
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