CROSBY, Texas — The Harris County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Friday morning it will be receiving oversight from outside law enforcement agencies during its investigation into the death of a man who passed away in the hospital after a physical confrontation with an off-duty officer and her husband in a Denny’s restaurant parking lot a few days before.
John Hernandez, 24, died Wednesday night after several nights on life support at the Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital.
Investigators said Terry Thompson, 48, drove up to the restaurant in the 17700 block of the Crosby Freeway on Sunday at around 11:40 p.m. His children were in the car with him as they waited to meet with his wife, a Harris County deputy who was off-duty at the time. The Hernandez family claims the man’s 3-year-old daughter also witnessed the altercation.
Once inside the parking lot, deputies said Thompson saw Hernandez urinating in public view and went to verbally confront the man about his behavior. Officers said the argument escalated to a physical altercation.
Moments later, the Thompson’s wife arrived in a separate vehicle. The officer called the sheriff’s office for backup and emergency medical services before helping her husband restrain Hernandez, investigators said.
When the officer realized Hernandez was no longer resisting, she and her husband let off the man. Investigators said Hernandez stopped breathing, and the officer quickly went into action, performing CPR until paramedic arrived.
There were no reports of injuries sustained by the couple, and Thompson was not charged.
The officer will remain on active duty while Internal Affairs investigates her involvement in the incident, the sheriff's office said.
Hernandez was taken to the hospital for treatment. He remained brain-dead for several days before his family approved doctors to stop life support, the family said.
Randall Kallinen, the civil rights lawyer representing the Hernandez family, has demanded the sheriff’s office allow an independent, outside investigation of the death. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the office is investigating with the oversight of the Texas Department of Justice and the Texas Rangers during Friday’s press conference.
“We will be conducting it because I feel that we can do a thorough job,” Gonzalez said. “We are a law enforcement agency, but also I understand some of the complexities [of] the side stories to this. I just want to make sure we have another set of independent eyes.”
Gonzalez said the investigation is still in its early stages, and the sheriff's office doesn't want to rush to any quick judgements.
“[It] was an altercation that occurred between two parties, and obviously, it was fatal for Mr. Hernandez, unfortunately,” Gonzalez said. “But part of [the investigation] is to see what led to that. What was the actual cause? That’s why we could look at video footage, but a medical examiner needs to tell us this was cause of death, this is what led to the death. Not, yes, he died. But, he was on top? Was there another health issue? There’s different factors in this type of case.”
Gonzalez didn't beat around the bush regarding how the an internal investigation may look to the public, but the sheriff said he's confident in the office's ability to be transparent, thorough and unbiased. He also assured that the deputies husband was not receiving preferential treatment because of his wife's position.
The findings of the investigation will be presented to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office once it is completed.
“At the end of the day, for us, it’s about gathering the facts,” the sheriff said. “Ultimately, with any of these incidents, we leave it to the district attorney’s office to determine where culpability may lie.”