The drug raid in which deputies blew a hole in a 2-year-old boy with a stun grenade was carried out with a warrant based on false information, a federal grand jury has concluded.
The deputy that prepared the warrant that enabled the SWAT team to raid the home where Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh was sleeping lied about the occupants, the grand jury said.
Former Habersham County Deputy Sheriff Nikki Autry lied to a magistrate judge in order to get the warrant that started the raid, a grand jury for the Northern District of Georgia found. Autry allegedly told the magistrate that an informant had told her that methamphetamine dealers were operating out of the house, when she had no evidence that such deals were taking place.
“Without her false statements, there was no probable cause to search the premises for drugs or to make the arrest,” acting US Attorney John Horn said of Autry in a statement to The Atlanta Journal Constitution. “And in this case, the consequences of the unlawful search were tragic.”
Deputy Lies Led to the Drug Raid
During the raid on May 28, 2014, a member of the Mountain Judicial Circuit Narcotics Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team, or NCIS team, threw an explosive device called a flash bang grenade into the playpen where Bou Bou was sleeping, right inside the door to the home.
The toddler suffered severe injuries to his face, had a hole blown in his chest and sustained possible brain damage from the explosion. Bou Bou’s parents, who were visiting from Wisconsin, sued Habersham County and settled for $964,000.
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Autry faces four charges of civil rights violations for her role in the raid. They include depriving the Phonesavanh family of their right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and Bou Bou’s cousin Wanis Thonetheva of his right to be free from arrest without probable cause, an FBI press release says. Such violations are punishable by a sentence of up to 10 years in a federal prison, according to the FBI.
The grand jury alleges that Autry:
- Told the magistrate that an informant had purchased meth from somebody at the house in Cornelia, Georgia, where Bou Bou’s family was staying, when she knew no such drug deal had taken place.
- Knew that the informant had provided false information to the NCIS in the past.
- Failed to take steps to verify any of the informant’s claims about the house, including an allegation that there was heavy traffic there.
- Did not conduct surveillance to see if anybody was actually selling meth at the residence.
- Lied in an affidavit to the magistrate in which she said there was a “a true and reliable informant who has provided information in the past that has led to criminal charges on individuals selling narcotics in Habersham County.”
Autry is scheduled to be arraigned by a federal judge in Georgia this month. The FBI, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), and the district attorney’s office of the Mountain Judicial Circuit are continuing to investigate the case.
“As a result of this investigation, the GBI has partnered with law enforcement and prosecution officials in Habersham County and northeast Georgia to revamp drug enforcement operations in order to prevent incidents such as this in the future,” GBI Director Vernon M. Kennan said.
The family has had to pay more than $500,000 in medical bills and set up a website for donations: JusticeandPrayersForBoubou.org/
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