A 19-month-old boy is in a medically induced coma after being badly injured when a flash-bang grenade tossed by a policeman landed in his playpen during an early morning SWAT team raid in Habersham County, Georgia.
“Cops busted in the door and threw that grenade in there without even looking first and it landed right in his playpen and exploded on his pillow right in his face,” Alecia Phonesavanh said of her son, Bounkham.
The mother told WSB TV that the device ripped her son’s face open and severely burned one of his lungs. The boy will not be able to use that lung again, Alecia said. Doctors placed the boy in a medically induced coma to keep him still so he wouldn’t further injure himself.
“I know there is a big hole in my son’s chest,” Bounkham Phonesavanh Sr., the boy’s father, said. “Do you look before you do something that can hurt people?”
Said Alecia Phonesavanh, “He’s got severe lacerations to his face and his chest, his lung is so badly burned he cannot breathe on his own. He’s only a baby. He didn’t deserve any of this.”
In the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time
The raid that injured the boy was conducted by the Habersham County Special Response Team. The team was apparently searching for Bounkham Phonesavanh’s nephew, Wanis Thometheva, who is suspected of dealing methamphetamines.
Neither the nephew nor any drugs were found in the home after the raid. The official in charge of the team, Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell, told WSB TV that his deputies believed Thometheva was operating a drug house with armed guards at the home.
The Phonesavanh family was staying at the home while visiting from Wisconsin. The home belonged to Bounkham Phonesavanh Sr.’s sister. The family had travelled from Wisconsin because their home in that state had been destroyed in a fire.
Parents Allege SWAT Team Lied About Injuries
Alecia alleged that deputies lied about her son’s condition by telling her he merely had a tooth knocked out. The parents didn’t know that their child was badly injured until they reached a hospital and doctors told them the truth.
“The SWAT team’s blocking me, now I figured it out they didn’t want me to see my son,” Bounkham Phonesavanh Sr. said.
Alecia said she suspected something was wrong when she saw a pool of blood on the ground.
Story continues below video
Terrell said the injury partially occurred because his deputies didn’t have night vision equipment so they couldn’t see what was in the home. The raid was conducted at 2 a.m. in the morning.
“The child was at the very front door, the door where we actually went in when the CI (confidential informant) purchased the drugs. It was unexpected that the child was there,” Terrell said.
Two Different Stories
“There was nothing to indicate that there was children present in the home,” Terrell said. He added his team would not have used a flash-bang grenade if they had known children were present. The sheriff also claimed that Thometheva had a so-called assault rifle, but no rifle was found.
The Phonesavanhs said they had stayed in the home for at least two weeks and that their children were playing outside almost every day. The couple also noted that their van, with children’s car seats in it, was parked outside the house.
Terrell claimed this informant had purchased drugs in the house a few hours before the raid. The couple acknowledged that they knew about the drug dealing and were planning to return to Wisconsin to get away from it. Terrell said Alecia was hiding in the home with her kids while Thometheva conducted drug deals.
SWAT Team also Accused of Killing Pastor
Meanwhile, the same county, Habersham, was involved in a deadly drug raid in 2009 that drew national attention. That raid was conducted by the Mountain Judicial Circuit Narcotics Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team and resulted in the death of pastor Jonathan Ayers. Ayers was shot and killed, apparently as he was trying to minister to a drug addict.
A federal jury found that the team was responsible for the death and this year awarded Ayers’ widow $2.3 million. An investigator hired by the widow found that the officer who shot the pastor was not properly trained and not qualified to carry a gun. That officer, Billy Shane Harrison, was later fired.
The grenade incident is being investigated by District Attorney Brian Rickman, WSB TV reported.
What do you think? Tell us in the comments section below.