Pubdate: Sat, 31 May 2014
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)
Copyright: 2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Author: Steve Visser


A drug buy, a no-knock police raid and a flash-bang grenade have left
a 19-month-old child clinging to life today and his family and
commentators questioning the tactics that put him in intensive care.
The 3 a.m. raid Wednesday in Habersham County unearthed no drugs, no
weapons, no bundles of cash and not even the suspect drug dealer.

It left a visiting family from Wisconsin -- whom authorities described
as unlucky innocents -- terrified, and their son on a ventilator. The
raid also puts the spotlight on the controversial no-knock warrants
and whether magistrates too easily approve them, said Robert
Friedmann, a policing expert at Georgia State University. Friedmann
noted the no-knock warrants -- where police officers kick in doors
instead of announcing their presence -- are common in drug cases but
"the problem is you come up with consequences like this. Police have a
hard time explaining. They can explain and they can explain.

The outcome is the same." Habersham County District Attorney Brian
Rickman told Channel 2 Action News he would investigate the raid but
if officers were unaware of the presence of children they were likely
safe from any criminal charges. Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell
said the raid was properly executed but resulted in a tragic result
instead of an arrest of suspected methamphetamine dealer.

He said their undercover agent who bought a small quantity of the drug
earlier in the week spotted no evidence of children in the house. The
child's mother, Alecia Phonesavanh, said officers should have known
there were children in the house. "If they had an informant in that
house, they knew there were kids," Phonesavanh told The Atlanta
Journal-Constitution Friday. "They say there were no toys. There is
plenty of stuff.

Their shoes were laying all over." Terrell acknowledged that the
undercover agents only made a single drug buy and that they did not
keep surveillance on the house.

That might have allowed them to see the house was packed with kids but
it also risked revealing that officers were watching the house.

He justified the use of the no-knock warrant by telling the AJC that
Thonetheva , reportedly possessed an AK-47 assault rifle and was
arrested with other weapons during during a previous drug arrest. That
may not be enough to justify the use of the controversial no-knock
warrant, which the sheriff said they used often in drug raids.

Dale Mann, retired director of the Georgia Public Safety Training
Center, said the officers had to swear under oath that a "great
likelihood" that officers would be in peril or evidence destroyed if
they executed a normal search warrant. Terrell said the suspected drug
dealer, 30-year-old Wanis Thonetheva, was arrested later at another
house, with a quantity of methamphetamine, possibly as much as an
ounce. but no weapons. Policing expert Friedman, said botched raids in
which innocents are harmed can reverberate through police departments.
Nearly eight years ago, Atlanta narcotic officers conducted a no-knock
warrant at an English Avenue house and killed 92-year-old Kathryn
Johnston when she fired at the door. Three officers later admitted to
fabricating information for the no-knock search warrant and went to

The unit was disbanded and later reorganized. In the Habersham case,
the police tossed a stun grenade into the Cornelia house and it landed
in a playpen where 19-month-old Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh was
sleeping, critically injuring him. His father, mother and three older
sisters, were also asleep in the room but were uninjured. "I was told
they were suppose to roll those things," Alecia Phonesavanh said. "If
they had rolled it, it would not have landed on my son's pillow." Now
he is in a medically induced coma in the Grady Memorial Hospital burn
unit and breathing on a ventilator because a lung has stopped working,
said his mother.

The blast severely burned the toddler and opened up a deep gash in his
chest, rendering one lung inoperable, the mother said.

Doctors at Grady  Memorial Hospital put the child in a medically induced 

coma and he is breathing on a respirator with a 50-percent
chance of survival. "I hope he is not going to remember this," his
mother said of the raid. "I know his sisters, his mom and his daddy
are never going to forget this." Phonesavanh said she and her family
had moved to live with her sister-in-law in April after they suffered
a fire in Wisconsin. They knew Thonetheva had problems with the law in
the past but said they were assured he had straightened his life up
and had a job. But they decided it wasn't a good environment and had
reserved a U-Haul for Thursday to return to Wisconsin.

"Things were not as good as what we were told," she said. Now her
three daughters are recording words of love and encouragement to
play to their 19-month-old brother at his bedside. "He is hanging
in there =C2=85we are trying to keep him strong," Phonesavanh said. "He
is getting lots of love. Love will make anybody strong, you know."
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