Bayou City

Hernandez Family Says Man Accused of Strangling Father Was MMA Fighter

Chauna and Terry Thompson arrive at court in Houston on Tuesday morning.
Chauna and Terry Thompson arrive at court in Houston on Tuesday morning. Daniel Kramer
The family of John Hernandez is suing the couple charged with his murder —  and says the man accused of choking him to death was trained in mixed martial arts.

Lawyers for the Hernandez family brought a wrongful death lawsuit Monday against Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Chauna Thompson and her husband, Terry Thompson. The case, filed in Harris County District Court, names Hernandez’s window, Maria Toral, his parents, Ignacio and Maria Hernandez, and his three-year-old daughter, Alexa Hernandez, as plaintiffs.

The lawsuit, which does not specify damages, was submitted Monday afternoon by lawyers Randall Kallinen and Troy Chandler. At a press conference in Chandler’s office Tuesday morning, Hernandez's family wore T-shirts with an image of John Hernandez and the phrase “#JusticeForJohn.” Ignacio Hernandez, speaking in Spanish, thanked his lawyers, the public and the news media for their support and interest.

The Thompsons face criminal charges for murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide. At the very least, the civil suit argues the Thompsons were negligent in allowing Hernandez to die while they were restraining him. Noting that Chauna Thompson is a law-enforcement officer and Terry Thompson is a trained MMA fighter, the lawsuit says the couple should have been “aware of the deadly nature of certain chokeholds.”

“Accounts about what started the confrontation are unclear,” the case reads, “but what is certain is that nothing Mr. Hernandez or Mr. Thompson were doing warranted the death penalty.”

Kallinen told the Houston Press that he learned of Terry Thompson's MMA training from a post on Thompson's since-deactivated Facebook page.
click to enlarge The Hernandez family and their lawyers speak at a news conference Tuesday. - STEPHEN PAULSEN
The Hernandez family and their lawyers speak at a news conference Tuesday.
Stephen Paulsen
The suit contains graphic descriptions of Hernandez’s final moments. As Hernandez struggled for his life and bystanders yelled for him to be released, the suit alleges, Chauna Thompson told him, “Shut up, we are not letting you go, you already can’t breathe, so stop making noises.”

“The Thompsons knew [they] were killing John Hernandez,” Hernandez's lawyers argue.

Kallinen, one of the family's attorneys, says a civil case will help shed light on the circumstances of John Hernandez’s death. “There are many things you can get in a civil case that you can’t get in a criminal case,” Kallinen told the Houston Press. “This is a way to get all the evidence so that the young daughter will, maybe someday, be able to have some funds in order to live.”

Asked if he planned to sue the state as well, Kallinen wouldn’t rule out the possibility. And while he acknowledged it would be hard to sue a law enforcement agency for mishandling the case — “there’s not a constitutional right to a fair investigation,” he said — he did think the sheriff’s department had conducted itself unfairly.

When deputies arrived at the scene of the incident on May 28, outside an east Harris County Denny's, they failed to interview all the witnesses, Kallinen said. And while Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez was hailed for asking state and federal agencies to investigate, Kallinen contended Gonzalez did so only “after quite some time, and only through public outcry.”

Kallinen also alleged that deputies at the scene, when speaking with Harris County prosecutors to recommend assault charges against Hernandez, did not mention the severity of Hernandez's injuries.

“If the district attorney’s office had known someone was basically dead, they might have asked, ‘Well, how did he get that way?’” Kallinen said.
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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.