Death of man in Denny's fight with deputy's husband ruled homicide

Harris County Sheriff's Office vehicle (file photo). (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

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Harris County Sheriff's Office vehicle (file photo). (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

The medical examiner for Harris County, Texas, has ruled that 24-year-old John Hernandez, who died three days after a deputy's husband allegedly restrained him during a fight outside a Denny's restaurant in Houston, died from anoxic encephalopathy because of strangulation with chest compression.

#BREAKING The Harris County medical examiner has released the cause of death for a man who died after a confrontation with a deputy's husband outside a Denny's restaurant in Sheldon.

Posted by KPRC2 / Click2Houston on Tuesday, June 6, 2017

In other words, Hernandez died from a lack of oxygen to his brain due to strangulation and compression of his chest.

The death following the fight, which was captured on cellphone video, has been ruled a homicide, KPRC reported. The ruling appears to be, in the opinion of an attorney for Hernandez's family, "manslaughter if not a murder ... because it appears the guy has him in a chokehold and he chokes [Hernandez], and he chokes him and eventually kills him."

As Rare reported previously, the incident took place May 28 outside a Denny's restaurant in Houston. There, Hernandez, allegedly intoxicated, could be seen staggering as he left the establishment with his wife.

Moments later, an off-duty deputy from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office; her husband, 41-year-old Terry Thompson; and their children reportedly arrived at the restaurant. A confrontation between the deputy’s husband and Hernandez ensued that resulted in Hernandez losing his life in the hospital three days later, authorities said.

A video of that confrontation shows what happened after an initial scuffle in graphic detail.

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The Harris County Sheriff’s Office has said Hernandez was seen urinating outside the restaurant, which is what sparked the confrontation.

An attorney for Hernandez’s family, Jack Carroll, said he received the cellphone video from “[an] anonymous concerned citizen [who] said it shows murder.”

Carroll called the restraint method an “illegal chokehold” and said both Thompson and his deputy wife are culpable for Hernandez’s death.

"I was pretty shocked. It's a very sad video. You're watching a man basically being killed," Carroll said, according to KTRK. "He was kicking his legs in a helpless fashion, and you could hear him gargling just begging to stop."

“She had her right knee on his left shoulder,” he added.

Carroll said the video shows at least the crime of manslaughter taking place and condemned others who stood by as it happened. Carroll claimed that the person filming the video was doing so illegally.

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While Thompson’s attorney, Scot Courtney, said the video doesn’t show that Hernandez “was the initial aggressor,” a manslaughter or murder charge remains a possibility if it is deemed that Hernandez was no longer a threat and self-defense was no longer taking place.

Neither Thompson nor his wife was arrested or charged.

In a statement Tuesday, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said Deputy Shauna Thompson, Thompson’s wife, was removed from patrol.

The Sheriff’s Office previously said internal affairs was looking into the issue and has requested the help of the Department of Justice and the Texas Rangers.

When Hernandez stopped moving, the off-duty deputy reportedly performed CPR and called for an ambulance.

Hernandez was taken to the hospital and removed from life support three days later.

The case has sparked protests.

"It's not fair just because he's Mexican nobody helped him. It is because the other guy was married with the [deputy]," protester Gilberto Garcia told KTRK. "I think if it were the other way around, the guy would be arrested right there."