Pubdate: Fri, 21 Jan 2005
Source: Newsday (NY)
Copyright: 2005 Newsday Inc.
Author: Associated Press


NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. -- An 18-year-old woman was in a hospital burn
unit after being injured by an explosive device police tossed during a
drug raid. Authorities said the woman was not the target of the
investigation and described the incident as an unfortunate mishap.

Rhiannon Kephart suffered second- and third-degree burns on her chest
and stomach when the device, known as a flash-bang, landed in an
apartment where she apparently was in bed or just getting up.

A resident of the apartment was arrested.

The explosion set off a small fire, police said.

"We feel terrible about this. It's very unfortunate," Niagara Falls
Police Superintendent John Chella said. "The intended use of a device
like this is to stun people or to divert their attention ... not to
hurt anyone."

He defended the officers' actions, saying there was concern that
loaded assault weapons were inside the apartment. A loaded gun was
recovered, he said.

Officers arrested Michael Johnson, the apartment's occupant, on a
felony drug conspiracy charge. Johnson, 24, was charged with
conspiring to possess and distribute marijuana, and with possessing a
9 mm handgun. In court papers, agents said Johnson admitted importing
1,000 pounds of marijuana from Canada in the last three years.

Authorities said they did not know if Kephart was staying in the
apartment or visiting.

Organizations like Drug Reform Coordination Network and Law
Enforcement Against Prohibition, which have criticized the nation's
anti-drug efforts, have long questioned the use of flash-bang devices.

Peter Christ, a former police captain and co-founder of Law
Enforcement Against Prohibition, described such devices as part of a
dangerous militarization of police tactics.

"I'm not making any judgments about this Niagara Falls incident,
because I wasn't there and I don't know their reasons for using it,"
Christ said. "But these are like military devices. When you use it,
you're putting people in danger."

David Borden, executive director of the Washington-based Drug Reform
Coordination Network, said the devices should be limited to
exceptional situations, such as hostage-takings.
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