Chauna Thompson and her husband, Terry, arrive in court in Houston last month.
Chauna Thompson and her husband, Terry, arrive in court in Houston last month.
Daniel Kramer

Harris County Deputy Accused in Slaying Outside Denny's Has Been Fired

Chauna Thompson, the sheriff’s deputy accused of killing a Houston man in May, has been fired, according to news release sent out by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

"We will learn from the tragic death of John Hernandez," Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said in the statement.

The family of the victim, 24-year-old father John Hernandez, held a news conference Friday thanking the sheriff’s office for its decision. "It’s a step in the right direction,” said one relative at the event. “To get a conviction for both of them, that would be the ultimate justice.”

The Thompson family was meeting for dinner at an east Houston Denny’s on May 28 when Chauna Thompson’s husband, Terry Thompson, allegedly encountered John Hernandez urinating outside. After Thompson claims he asked Hernandez to stop, a confrontation ensued. By the end, Hernandez was dead.

The Thompsons have attempted to frame the killing as self-defense. But their version of events was undercut by eyewitness testimony, as well as at least one bystander video.

A viral clip of the incident, filmed by an anonymous man and later released by a lawyer, shows Terry Thompson straddling Hernandez with his arms around Hernandez’s neck. As Hernandez moans, Chauna Thompson can be heard ordering him to remain on the ground.

Meanwhile, Melissa Trammel, a waitress at the Denny’s, told reporters that she and a manager had begged the Thompsons to stop choking Hernandez. “He was turning purple,” Trammel told KHOU News. ”We told [Thompson] to stop, but he did not.”

Criminal charges quickly followed Hernandez's death. Less than a week after Hernandez was killed, the Harris County medical examiner ruled his death a homicide by strangulation. Then, after a day of deliberations, a Harris County grand jury indicted the Thompsons on murder charges.

Until last week, Chauna Thompson had been on administrative leave without pay. Gonzalez's decision to fire Thompson came after he stood beside Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg and said he supported the charges.

Elected last November, Gonzalez has appeared to treat this case of alleged police brutality with particular seriousness. Before the coroner’s office had even released its findings, Gonzalez asked state and federal law-enforcement to join the investigation — a move he said would help ensure “full transparency” and “make sure there’s another set of independent eyes.”

But not everyone thinks Gonzalez has been fair to John Hernandez. In an interview with the Houston Press in June, Randall Kallinen, the lawyer for the Hernandez family, acknowledged that Gonzalez had asked other law-enforcement agencies to get involved. Be he said Gonzalez did so “after quite some time, and only through public outcry.”

What’s more, Kallinen said, deputies at the scene had recommended criminal charges for Hernandez without even mentioning the severity of his 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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