Georgia officers cleared in raid that wounded Janesville toddler

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The Associated Press and Gazette staff
October 7, 2014

ATLANTA—The mother of a Janesville toddler severely injured during a May police raid in Georgia said justice was not served to her family Tuesday.

"I don't care if it's two years, five years or 20 years, I'm not done with them," Alecia Phonesavanh said. "I will not stop until my son gets justice."

A grand jury in northeast Georgia found that an investigation that led to a law enforcement raid that seriously injured a toddler was "hurried" and "sloppy," but recommended no criminal charges be brought against the officers involved.

During the late-May raid on the northeast Georgia home, Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh, who was 19 months old at the time, was seriously injured when a flashbang grenade detonated in his playpen.

The Habersham County grand jury released a 15-page report detailing its findings Monday.

Federal authorities continue to investigate and will decide whether federal charges are appropriate, U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said Tuesday in an emailed statement.

"I'm heartbroken," Phonesavanh said. "I was promised a fair trial and my son didn't get that."

Phonesavanh said there were no arrests made or tickets issued the night of the incident. Nor were there any drugs or weapons found in the home, she said.

"They didn't find anything at all," she said. "There was no explanation of what was going on. All that we got was "sit down, shut up, sit down, shut up" over and over. I can't give my kids any kind of comfort. Fear has overtaken our lives."

The toddler, who turns 2 next week, had his face and chest blown open and suffered burns in the raid, family spokesman Marcus Coleman told reporters. The boy has already undergone numerous surgeries leading to medical bills in excess of $1 million and will continue to require additional surgeries for years to come, Coleman said.

The family's lawyer, Mawuli Davis, told reporters he hopes the U.S. attorney will bring charges. He said he's also waiting to get all the documents in the case so the family can file a lawsuit.

Members of a law enforcement task force looking for a drug suspect were executing a "no-knock" warrant when they threw the flash grenade into the Habersham County home where the suspect's mother lived and where the boy was staying with his parents and siblings. The suspect wasn't in the house at the time and was arrested a few hours later at another location.

The drug investigation that led to the raid was "hurried, sloppy, and unfortunately not in accordance with the best practices and procedures," according to the grand jury's report.

"Some of what contributed to this tragedy can be attributed to well-intentioned people getting in too big a hurry, and not slowing down and taking enough time to consider the possible consequences of their actions," grand jurors wrote.

Davis, the family's lawyer, said that the combination of hurried and sloppy work along with the use of a lethal device should qualify at least for a charge of reckless conduct.

Grand jurors also found that the supervising agent failed to provide adequate supervision and direction to the case agent and that one of the officers inappropriately yelled at the toddler's father in the aftermath of the raid.

But the grand jury concluded there was "no evidence of criminal intent or criminal negligence on the part of any law enforcement officer involved." The grand jury also found that the officers were justified in seeking the no-knock warrant.

Grand jurors asked about personnel actions taken against the case agent, the case agent's supervisor and the agent who had a heated exchange with the father.

They were told that Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell put the case agent on administrative leave, and the agent resigned instead of facing possible firing. The case agent's supervisor was reassigned and took a significant pay cut. And the agent who yelled at the father was reassigned and isn't allowed to have any role in drug investigations in the county.

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