Officer Indicted For Lying On Warrant Application That Led To Toddler Being Burned By Flashbang Grenade

from the actually,-I'd-rather-have-honest-cops-than-burned-toddlers,-TYVM dept

The local police union defended the indefensible: the burning/maiming of a toddler with a flashbang grenade, delivered during a no-knock raid in service of the Drug War. According to the union rep, burned toddlers are just the price society has to pay to keep the streets relatively free of criminals.

"You have to draw the line between your right as a citizen to privacy and a community's right to live in a crime-free environment. You can't have them both," Mills said.
Thanks, but no thanks. Not only did the union defend these Georgia police officers' needlessly aggressive tactics, but it attempted to lay the blame for a burned toddler at the public's feet. And now, with a grand jury indictment being handed down, it appears the union was also defending a liar.
According to the indictment, [Deputy] Autry falsely claimed a confidential informant who had provided reliable information in the past had bought methamphetamine from Wanis Thonetheva at his mother's house in Cornelia. In truth, the informant was newly minted, and it was his roommate who claimed (without verification) to have bought drugs at the house. That lie was the basis for the early-morning, no-knock raid during which 18-month-old Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh, Thonetheva's cousin, was nearly killed by a flash-bang grenade that landed in the playpen where he was sleeping.
Any CI that can put a no-knock raid in motion is inherently trustworthy. Except when they aren't. So, much like the toddler's family's lawsuit alleged, the impetus for the raid that saw SWAT members tripping over children's toys in the yard on their way to tossing a flashbang grenade into a crib was nothing more than some random citizen "helping" keep his neighborhood safe.

All that investigative work and "upon information and belief" was actually Habersham County Deputy Sheriff Nikki Autry spinning a tale of small-time drug running in exchange for the permission to perform the law enforcement version of a home invasion.
Specifically, Defendant Autry provided and swore, in pertinent part, (1) that she conducted an undercover drug investigation during which time CI #1459 was able to purchase a quantity of methamphetamine from [W.T] at [W.T.'s] residence; (2) that CI #1459 [was] a true and reliable informant who provided information in the past that led to criminal charges on individuals selling illegal narcotics… and (3) that she confirmed that "there [was] heavy traffic in and out of the residence."

This information that Defendant Autry provided and swore to was false, because, as Defendant Autry then well knew: (1) CI #1459 did not purchase a quantity of methamphetamine from W.T. during her investigation; (2) CI #1459 had not provided information in the past that led to criminal charges on individuals selling illegal narcotics… and (3) she had not confirmed that there was heavy traffic in and out of the residence.
The presentment accompanying the grand jury's findings suggest several improvements for drug enforcement activities, starting with dialing back the "gung-ho" aspects of drug warring.
Some of what contributed to this tragedy can be attributed to well-intentioned people getting in too big a hurry, and not slowing down and taking enough time to consider the possible consequences of their actions. Without serious supervision and constant vigilance, the work of drug enforcement, like many other jobs, can unfortunately become routine and lead to complacency and lack of attention to detail. The difference in this type of work is that the consequences can be devastating to both citizens and law enforcement when things go wrong.
Making thing go "right" more often means bringing SWAT teams and tactics back in line with their original intentions: for use only the most dangerous operations. Over the past few decades, SWAT teams have gone from seldom-used specialists who dealt with shootouts and hostage situations to routine -- but extraordinarily violent -- delivery services for unremarkable search/arrest warrants. The presentment points out law enforcement agencies have several options that don't involve violently raiding residences during odd hours.
We recommend that whenever reasonably possible, suspects be arrested away from a home when doing so can be accomplished without extra risk to law enforcement and to citizens. Going into a home with the highest level of entry should be reserved for those cases where it is absolutely necessary. This is to protect both citizens and law enforcement officers.

We have heard evidence that many drug suspects often initially believe a law enforcement entry is in fact a drug robbery. In an instant, they reach for a weapon or take an action that makes a situation escalate. This is dangerous to all involved, and neither the public nor law enforcement officers should be in this dangerous split second situation unless it is absolutely necessary for the protection of the public, which is the highest concern for our lawenforcement officers under their duty.
It's a nice set of words, but the real test will be the application of these principles -- principles that never should have been abandoned in the first place. To start with, it's rare to find an officer who places protection of the public over protection of themselves. Almost every act of unwarranted violence is defended by the words "feared for my safety." We don't ask that officers become punching bags and bullet-catchers, but there's a lot of leeway between a "furtive motion" and emptying a service weapon into an unarmed person. (Or tossing a flashbang through the nearest window with little regard for what lies behind it.)

The standard MO for drug-related warrants is to deliver them with as much violence, force and noise as possible, under the assumption that every drug dealer -- no matter how small -- awaits the arrival of police with barricades and an arsenal. This simply isn't borne out by the results of these raids, which often fail to turn up any weapons -- or at least none being wielded by the residents of the home. In some cases, there are also no drugs to be found, but this result rarely leads to the turfing of a CI or a less-violent entry when serving the next warrant.

The deaths and injuries caused by drug enforcement aren't in danger of approaching the death and injuries caused by the drug trade, but the former is more disturbing than the latter. While we might expect a certain amount of violence from purveyors of illicit substances, we don't really expect as much from law enforcement. And yet we're seeing it occur on a far too regular basis.



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Filed Under: drug war, flash bang, georgia, no knock raid, police, swat


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  1. icon
    DannyB (profile), 24 Jul 2015 @ 11:47am

    A Crime Free Environment

    "You have to draw the line between your right as a citizen to privacy and a community's right to live in a crime-free environment. You can't have them both," Mills said.
    Since you cannot* actually have a crime free environment, you cannot have them both. So why not preserve the citizen's right to privacy?

    * it might be possible in a harsh enough police state to have a crime free environment. But is this worth the price? Nevermind, I should not ask that question, as I know what the answer will be after considering burned / maimed toddlers. Think of the children. We must preserve the children's crime free environment.

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