A mother whose toddler is in a medically induced coma for injuries suffered when a police grenade detonated in his crib says her family was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Alecia Phonesavanh tells WSB TV that her family’s home in Wisconsin was destroyed in a fire, so they went to stay at her sister-in-law’s home in Habersham County Georgia. As the family slept early Wednesday, police raided the house to arrest a man for selling drugs and weapons.
SWAT officers, who said they had no idea Phonesavanh’s children were in the home, tossed what is dubbed a “flashbang” into the house about 3 a.m. to distract the suspect. The mother says the grenade landed in her 19-month-old son’s crib and exploded on his pillow, severely burning Bounkham, nicknamed “Bou Bou.”
He is in critical condition at Grady Memorial Hospital.Should police be allowed to serve warrants without knocking for drug arrests? Or should such tactics be used only for more violent crimes? Tell us what you think in the comments section.
“I hope he’s not going to remember this,” Phonesavanh told the TV station. "Our kids have been through enough this year. This is just more trauma that they didn’t need, and I just wish there was something I could do to make it better for him. Wrong place, wrong time."
Cornelia police Chief Rick Darby said officers had previously purchased drugs from the house, and came back with the no-knock warrant to arrest Wanis Thometheva, 30. Methamphetamine was reportedly sold by Thometheva from the house, setting up the raid. Authorities said that during a previous arrest on drug charges, Thometheva was found to have an AK-47 and other weapons in his possession, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“There was no clothes, no toys, nothing to indicate that there was children present in the home. If there had been, then we'd have done something different,” Darby told WSB.
Phonesavanh told AJC.com Friday that officers had to see signs of her four children as they entered the house. In addition to her son, she and husband Bounkham “Bou” have three daughters, ages 3, 5, and 7.
“There is plenty of stuff,” she said. “Their shoes were laying all over.”
Family friend Holly Benton Wickersham of Janesville, WI, has set up an online fundraiser for the family’s expenses.
On the GoFundMe site Wickersham wrote: “I’m trying
to raise money for my friends Bou and Alecia for their baby who is in intensive
care in Atlanta.
He needs lots of surgeries and I wanna help raise money to help with bills and food and other things they may need."
Just under $11,000 had been donated to the fund Friday afternoon.
Kara Dansky, senior counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Huffington Post that SWAT teams were created in the 1960s to handle hostage-taking cases and active shooters.
"We're seeing increasingly that police are using SWAT teams to do raids of people's homes often in low-level drug cases. This sometimes causes an escalated risk of violence as we saw in this case."
Dansky said authorities have a right to protect themselves, but she said these tactics are sometimes misused.
"Even if they're serving these search warrants on a person's home, they're doing so at night with a paramilitary force of 15 to 20 heavily armed officers and using military weapons and tactics," Dansky told the Huffington Post. "It's hard to understand why these types of actions are warranted for low-level drug cases."
George Washington University legal scholar Jonathan Turley blogged about the case, noting that police arrested the suspect at another home. He wrote that there is always a risk of innocent people being in a home, making the use of such grenades an obvious risk to the young and the elderly.
"The question is whether such injuries could be avoided if police announced themselves and demand entry," Turley wrote. "Police now routinely ask and receive warrants that waive the constitutional requirement to 'knock and announcement.' … Police must show on a case-by-case basis that they have reasonable suspicion of exigent circumstances."