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Harris County Deputy Says She Shouldn't Have Been Fired After Denny's Killing

Former Harris County Sheriff's Office deputy Chauna Thompson says she should not have been fired.
Former Harris County Sheriff's Office deputy Chauna Thompson says she should not have been fired. Photo by Daniel Kramer
Chauna Thompson, the Harris County sheriff’s deputy who was fired for her alleged role in the choking death of John Hernandez, is now appealing her firing.

Thompson’s lawyer, Gregory Cagle, argued in an appeal filed Friday that Thompson's firing was done improperly and was politically motivated. Her termination was “done without an investigation or even an autopsy," Cagle wrote.

It’s a mysterious claim, given that the Harris County Medical Examiner performed an autopsy on Hernandez back in June and ruled his death a homicide by strangulation. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office has also been investigating the incident since shortly after Hernandez’s death.

In a statement, Cagle contended that neither the autopsy nor the investigation were complete on June 6.
"It takes at least 6-8 weeks to get an autopsy report," Cagle wrote.

Tricia Bentley, a spokeswoman for the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office, said the full autopsy has yet to be released to the public, but the district attorney's office does have access to the document. A different employee said the full autopsy was finished around July 14, a week before Sheriff Ed Gonzalez fired Thompson.

Thompson was joining her family for a late-night meal at an east Houston Denny’s on May 28 when her husband, Terry Thompson, allegedly came across Hernandez urinating outside. A confrontation ensued, resulting in the death of Hernandez, a 24-year-old father.

Although the Thompsons have insisted they acted in self-defense, much of the evidence seems to suggest otherwise. At least one eyewitness — Denny’s waitress Melissa Trammel — has come forward to dispute the Thompsons' testimony.

Hernandez “was turning purple” as he was restrained, Trammel told KHOU News. ”We told [Terry Thompson] to stop, but he did not.”

Meanwhile, a video of the encounter, captured by an anonymous bystander and later leaked through a local attorney, shows Terry Thompson straddling Hernandez with his arms around Hernandez’s neck. Chauna Thompson, who was off-duty at the time, can be seen in the video ordering Hernandez to remain on the ground.

Hernandez lay there, moaning, for the duration of the one-minute video.

Several weeks later, a Houston grand jury indicted the couple for the murder of John Hernandez. That case is still ongoing. Although Chauna Thompson was put on unpaid leave shortly after the killing, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office didn’t officially terminate her employment until late July.
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Stephen Paulsen is a journalist and native Houstonian. He writes about crime, food, drugs, urban planning and extremists of all kinds. He covers local news for Houston Press and cannabis policy for Leafly.