Family of Ga. toddler burned in raid want federal review
Habersham County District Attorney Brian Rickman said his office is investigating to determine whether any officers will face criminal charges
By Kathleen Foody
ATLANTA — A Georgia family and lawmakers are demanding that federal authorities investigate the case of a toddler severely injured by a flash grenade during a drug raid.
Bounkham Phonesavanh — a 19-month-old nicknamed "Bou Bou" — remained in a medically induced coma on Tuesday. Habersham County District Attorney Brian Rickman said his office is investigating to determine whether any officers will face criminal charges.
Police have said officers were searching for a potentially armed drug suspect at the home and did not know children were inside when they rammed the door and dropped a flash grenade inside the door. The grenade landed in the sleeping boy's playpen, according to both authorities and the boy's family. The grenades create a bright flash and loud noise and are commonly used by law enforcement to distract or stun suspects.
Georgia state Sen. Vincent Fort, who has sponsored legislation in the past to limit "no-knock" warrants that allow authorities to burst into a home without warning, said he plans to ask the U.S. Attorney to review the case.
"At this point when you look at these pictures, when you hear what was done, the public's confidence in the district attorney to conduct an objective investigation — the public's confidence in that is nil, it's gone, it's not there," Fort said.
The district attorney collected no evidence at the home, so the family has hired an investigator to do so, said their attorney, Mawuli Mel Davis.
Rickman said his office is still gathering statements, photographs and other evidence from agencies involved with the raid and would like to speak with the Phonesavanh family. The raid had not been cleared by either the district attorney or the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, despite Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell's earlier statements to the contrary, Rickman said. A call to Terrell's office on Monday was not returned.
"Anytime you look at pictures of a child injured like that, it's awful," Rickman said. "Everybody's heart goes out to the family. We've just got to do our job here."
The boy's father and mother, Bounkham and Alecia Phonesavanh, left their son briefly on Monday to thank supporters during a prayer rally outside the Atlanta hospital where he is being treated. The parents wrapped their arms around each other's shoulders and held hands with their three daughters, all wearing pink. Church leaders and other supporters stood around them, holding pictures of the toddler before and after the raid that injured him.
"Thank you for your prayers, everybody," Bounkham Phonesavanh said quietly. "Thank you."
The boy was scheduled to have surgery on Monday until he developed a fever that delayed the procedure, Alecia Phonesavanh said.
Police were looking for Wanis Thonetheva, 30, who they believed lived at the home based on a confidential informant who had recently bought drugs there. Thonetheva was not in the home when police raided it early Wednesday morning. He was arrested later and charged with distribution of methamphetamine.
The Phonesavanh family was staying with family after their Wisconsin home was damaged in a fire. Thonetheva is Bounkham Phonesavanh's nephew, but the Phonesavanhs were not involved with drugs, Davis said during Monday's rally.
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