HARRIS COUNTY, Texas – The Harris County Sheriff says he will seek independent help as they continue the investigation into the altercation that resulted in the death of a 24-year-old father at a Denny’s restaurant.
Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said he will ask for help with oversight from the Texas Rangers and the Department of Justice in the investigation during a press conference Friday morning.
The sheriff added that the investigation has been given a "high priority."
"We're going to continue to investigate the incident, but I will also be reaching out to the Texas Rangers and the Department of Justice to make sure that we have full transparency and to make sure there is another set of independent eyes that will look at our investigation," the sheriff said.
Gonzalez said that once the investigation is done, it will be handed over to the Harris County District Attorney's Office.
"I have full confidence in our investigators, and I believe there are doing a thorough job," he said. "I trust their skill set on this. I have had experience investigating these type of cases."
Johnny Hernandez was taken off life support Wednesday night after he was found to be brain dead, his family’s lawyer confirmed Thursday morning.
Late Sunday night, Hernandez’s family stopped at the Denny’s restaurant on Crosby Freeway near Sheldon. After celebrating his beloved Chivas soccer team’s victory, Hernandez was drunk, his wife said. She insisted he have coffee.
Instead, surveillance cameras showed Hernandez walking outside with his wife trying to stop him. She said her husband urinated near their vehicle.
Another man, who was identified Friday morning by the sheriff as 48-year-old (first name not given) Thompson and whose wife is a sheriff deputy, was outside with his kids and confronted Hernandez about his behavior. Video showed the two men scuffling.
People ran outside while Hernandez’s wife and 3-year-old daughter watched and screamed.
“She was crying and telling (the man beating Hernandez) stop and he didn’t even stop,” Hernandez’s wife said. “I told him please stop. Don’t do that to him. He’s drunk. He wasn’t in any position to fight. But, he didn’t have any compassion. He was really angry.”
Hernandez’s wife claims deputies took her cell phone then led her away for interviews. Nearly three days later, her husband was still in the intensive care unit at LBJ Hospital before he was eventually taken off life support.
Meanwhile, the report given to the family called the man who beat Hernandez the victim.
In a statement released earlier this week, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office told KHOU 11 News the matter is under investigation.
The Hernandez family, though, wonders if they will get justice given the other man’s connections.
“They feel that they can get it covered up because they are cops,” Hernandez’s wife said.
An eyewitness who spoke with KHOU-11 on Thursday on the condition of anonymity told us Hernandez was drunk and defenseless as he was beaten by the off-duty deputy’s husband.
The eyewitness contradicts a statement from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office which states the off-duty deputy assisted in restraining Hernandez and then administered CPR when she noticed he was not breathing.
“Even after I told him ‘stop, stop’ and other people were screaming he wouldn’t do it,” the eyewitness said. “Even after his wife came he didn’t do it. “His wife didn’t do anything, because I went in to call the police she was already there on the side and I didn’t see her do anything, I didn’t hear tell him stop. I didn’t hear her tell him anything. She just was watching.”
The eyewitness tells KHOU 11 Hernandez was held in a chokehold by the deputy’s husband for more than 10 minutes and was not breathing.
The sheriff’s office has not responded to our requests for information.
Below is the full statement from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office:
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is investigating an incident that occurred at 11:40 p.m. on Sunday, May 28, 2017, in a restaurant parking lot in the 17700 block of the Crosby Freeway in east Harris County.
Deputies were told that a 41-year-old male, accompanied by his children, pulled into the restaurant parking lot, where they observed a 24-year-old male urinating in public view. The 41-year-old male verbally confronted the other male about his behavior, and a physical altercation ensued.
The 41-year-old male is the husband of a Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy. The deputy was off duty at the time of the altercation. The off-duty deputy arrived in a separate vehicle to meet her family at the restaurant and called for assistance from the sheriff’s office and EMS. She then helped her husband restrain the other man.
When the off-duty deputy observed that the man had stopped resisting, she and her husband stopped restraining him and then noticed that he was not breathing. The off-duty deputy immediately began CPR and continued until Emergency Medical Services (EMS) arrived and transported the man to LBJ Hospital for treatment. The incident remains under investigation.