Drug War

Did Georgia Drug Warriors Commit a Crime When They Burned and Mutilated a Toddler?

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Phonesavanh Family

WSB-TV, the ABC station in Atlanta, reports that a grand jury will look into the Habersham County drug raid that gravely injured 19-month-old Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh last May. Early on the morning of May 28, a SWAT team consisting of Habersham County sheriff's deputies and Cornelia police officers broke into the home where Bou Bou and his family were staying, looking for a meth dealer who no longer lived there. The raid turned up no drugs, no drug dealers, and no weapons, but it left Bou Bou critically wounded by a flashbang grenade that one of the cops tossed into his crib, burning his body, blowing a hole in his chest, and detaching his nose. Now Habersham County District Attorney Brian Rickman tells WSB that a grand jury will convene on September 29 to consider whether any of that amounted to a crime.

Without the fig leaf of the war on drugs, the whole operation was a series of crimes, including breaking and entering, burglary, kidnapping, and assault with a deadly weapon. If Bou Bou, who was hospitalized for a month following the raid, had not survived, his death, even if unintended, would have been considered a murder, because he was injured in the course of a felony. But because these home invaders had a no-knock search warrant, based on the word of an informant who claimed to have made a $50 meth purchase at the house earlier that night, none of these charges apply. Instead the grand jury presumably will consider whether the raid was carried out in a criminally negligent manner.

Under Georgia law, a person is guilty of "reckless conduct," a misdemeanor, if he "causes bodily harm to or endangers the bodily safety of another person by consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his act or omission will cause harm or endanger the safety of the other person and the disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in the situation." Reckless conduct is an act of criminal negligence, which "implies, not only knowledge of probable consequences which may result from the use of a given instrumentality, but also willful or wanton disregard of the probable effects of such instrumentality upon others likely to be affected thereby." Another possibly relevant charge is cruelty to children in the second degree, a felony that occurs when a person "with criminal negligence causes a child under the age of 18 cruel or excessive physical or mental pain."

There is substantial evidence of negligence in this case. Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell and Cornelia Police Chief Rick Darby said their officers would not have used a flashbang if they knew children were living in the house they attacked. But their investigation of that possibility seems to have consisted entirely of asking their informant, who according to Terrell was at the house only briefly and did not go inside

Even rudimentary surveillance should have discovered signs of children, who according to the Phonesavanhs' lawyer played with their father, Bounkham, in the front yard every day. Bou Bou's mother, Alecia Phonesavanh, told ABC News there were "family stickers" on the minivan parked "right near the door they kicked in," which contained four child seats, and "my son's old playpen was right outside because we were getting ready to leave" for Wisconsin. Anyone who entered the house would have seen toys and children's clothes. According to the ACLU, there were also toys in the front yard.

Beyond the question of whether children are present, there is always a high risk that police looking for a drug dealer will encounter innocent bystanders when they burst into a home in the middle of the night, pointing rifles and tossing flashbangs. Given that likelihood, one may reasonably wonder whether such paramilitary tactics are inherently negligent, especially when there is no real evidence that police are apt to encounter armed resistance. 

The Phonesavanhs, who were staying with relatives in Georgia at the time of the raid because their house in Wisconsin had burned down, are now back in Wisconsin. Today, WSB reports, Bou Bou, now nearly 2, is undergoing his eighth surgery since the raid "to remove the stitches that were used to reattach his nose after the incident." The Phonesavanhs, who did not have insurance when Bou Bou was injured, are struggling to pay his medical bills, which at this point total more than $800,000. A few days after the raid, Terrell, the sheriff whose deputies participated in the raid, told the Fox station in Atlanta the county would cover those expenses. But last month the county decided such a payment would be illegal. Supporters of the family are seeking donations here.

The ACLU notes some of the raid's lingering psychological consequences:

The Phonesavanhs have three daughters who are now scared to go to bed at night. One night after the raid, their 8-year-old woke up in the middle of the night screaming, "No, don't kill him! You're hurting my brother! Don't kill him." Alecia and Bounkahm used to tell their kids that if they were ever in trouble, they should go to the police for help. "My three little girls are terrified of the police now. They don't want to go to sleep because they're afraid the cops will kill them or their family," Alecia said.

Even if the grand jury concludes that police recklessness in this case did not rise to the level of criminal negligence, the Phonesavanhs seem to have a strong case for a civil lawsuit—an outcome Habersham County has pretty much guaranteed by reneging on Terrell's promise of financial assistance.

NEXT: Are L.A. School Cops 'Protecting the Children' With Grenade Launchers?

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  1. Can something be wrong even if it is not a crime? It really doesn’t matter how the courts or legislatures debate or define this, it was a criminal act, even if somehow found to be technically not illegal.

    1. Morality and legality arent the same thing.

    2. Can something wrong be legal?
      From no knock raids to asset forfeiture laws, we see an increasing number of acts that are felonies if committed by an ordinary citizen yet protected by law if carried out by agents of the state.

  2. If these cops had any shame, they would leave law enforcement for good and send part of their paycheck to the family for the rest of their lives. The SWAT team would have 100 percent turnover, and the rules of engagement would change such that they would only be called out in active shooter and hostage situations. In addition, other departments around the country would change their procedures to prevent an incident like this from occurring.

    Instead we get FYTW, procedures were followed, and nothing else happened.

    1. If these cops had any shame

      If one had any shame, why would they want to be a cop these days in the first place?

      1. TACTICOOL! It’s what’s for dinner!

  3. I hope they sue the jurisdiction back to the stone age!

    1. You hope they sue the local protection racket who will turn around and tax the very people they terrorize to pay it.

      1. I hope they sue whatever union the local cops belong to.

  4. Is it wrong to have kids in a meth house?

    1. Yes, which is why we must burn babies For the Children.

      Seriously, I’m open to arguments for criminalizing hard drugs, but if prohibitionist logic leads to baby-burning, I’m out.

      1. I can discuss criminalizing of hard drugs, but I’m never going to be convinced that they should be criminalized, and I’m never going to change my mind. Simply, one owns one’s own body, or there is no freedom, period.

        1. I second that comment.

      2. Why are you open to arguments for criminalizing hard drugs? At what point does a substance become “hard” enough to override an individual’s ownership of his own body?

        1. “At what point does a substance become “hard” enough to override an individual’s ownership of his own body?”

          At about the point where someone, anyone, expects others to pay to feed, house, or clothe someone who is unemployable due to drug abuse.

          I’ll be all for the legalization of all drugs when I’m no longer held financially liable for their detrimental effects. As long as society can be forced to pay for the health and welfare of anyone involuntarily, society has a say in what people can and can’t put into their bodies. Want to legalize all drugs? Eliminate the social welfare state first.

          1. I hope you realize where that type of argument can go?

          2. Another example of socialism begetting more socialism which Anon obviously supports. Congratulations on such a principled stance. You must be a 4th tier libertarian.

            1. You are sadly mistaken if you think I support any form of socialism. Congratulations on your lack of reading comprehension.

              To be clear, it is my opinion that unless a person is seriously disabled to the point of quadriplegia or a vegetative state, and has no family that can support them, they should not receive a dime of taxpayer money to sit on their fucking ass and do nothing. I’m not responsible for feeding you, your little fuck-trophies, or anyone else other than my family. If you want to inject heroine into your fucking left nut, you should be free to do so, and I should be free to leave you dying in the gutter rather than be forced to pay to support your fucked up life-choices.

              If you can’t support children, you should not have children. If you can’t afford a house, you shouldn’t have a house. If you can’t afford food, nobody should be forced to feed you. You are responsible for you.

              Is that clear enough?

          3. Where do the “authorities” get the money to pay for the War on Drugs? Sorry to break it to you but you already pay for drug users.

    2. That’s not what this was. It was a family’s home where an informant claimed to have purchased a small amount of meth. If it were a meth house you send Child Protective Services, not a SWAT team. It won’t make any difference though. Prosecutors will find that procedures were followed and that it would be too difficult to prove a crime occurred. Justice for Just Us, as usual.

      1. Are you doubting the integrity of an
        informant? For shame!

    3. Where do you get “meth house?” No one in the house was charged with any crime, no one was arrested, and they did not find any evidence of drugs. Even by the fucked up standards of the drug war, this was a failed raid.

      1. No one in the house was charged with any crime, no one was arrested, and they did not find any evidence of drugs.

        And that required a no-knock SWAT raid.

        But, hey, they looked cool when they burned a baby. Fucking cowardly bastards.

    4. Wow, so not only is it the parents’ fault because they had a kid in a meth house, but they couldn’t even get the “meth house” part right since “THERE WERE NO DRUGS FOUND IN THE HOUSE.”

      I guess we should really admire cops who are brilliant enough to figure out that it’s a meth house even without, you know, meth being there.

  5. If we have to burn up a few babies to protect the children, then so be it. If we can just get some tanks and rocket launchers onto kindergarten playgrounds, we’ll almost be safe.

    1. We have to destroy the baby in order to save the baby.

      1. I feel really bad for laughing at that.

      2. We have to destroy freedom in order to save freedom!

  6. Suppose that a meth dealer had an explosion in his meth lab and a baby got burned as a result. The prohibition crowd would publicize this case as a example of why hard drugs are bad, and would charge the dealer with all sorts of crimes.

    And if the dealer said that he had to have a dangerous meth lab because meth was illegal and he couldn’t operate an above-board, safe lab for fear of prosecution, he’d be laughed out of court. “I can’t believe that some guy who burned a baby is making up excuses for why it’s someone else’s fault!”

    1. When a meth dealer burns up a baby accidentally, then he’s a hideous monster who needs to be strung up immediately, to protect the children.

      When a cop burns up a baby on purpose then he’s a hero who was only trying to protect that baby.

      If you don’t get that, you need to be sent off to the re-edumencation camps.

  7. these home invaders had a no-knock search warrant, based on the word of an informant who claimed to have made a $50 meth purchase at the house

    Obviously Bou Bou’s wounds are the informant’s fault!

    1. Actually I thought there was some early talk of charging the guy they failed to arrest or find at the house.

  8. I wonder if they wondered if meth was being cooked in there before using “distraction devices”.

      1. Right.

        *In the event that an actual meth cook was going on, most of the cops would be dead or injured either by the initial fireball or the extremely toxic fumes.

    1. “Distraction device” it sounds much nicer than “grenade”.

      1. Whomever came up with the term distraction device needs to hold one while it goes off.

        They somehow managed to make the term incendiary device less purposefully destructive or while preserving some of the tacticool essence.

        1. Incendiary devices are not even remotely similar to distraction devices.

          1. No, they are exactly similar, remotely.

      2. Well there’s nothing more distracting than lighting a baby on fire. So their tactics were sound.

      3. Destruction-Distraction. It’s pretty much the same word, right?

    2. “Did Georgia Drug Warriors Commit a Crime When They Burned and Mutilated a Toddler?” No. As long as they’re on the clock, they’re engaged in total warfare and the death of non-combatants is just collateral damage.

      It’s like the couple of recent cases where cops engaged in high-speed chases and shootouts with people holding hostages and the hostages wind up dead. Or the cop typing away on his computer while driving and runs off into the bike lane and kills a bicyclist.

      See, Lt. Calley missed his calling when he opted to join the Army instead of the PD. Instead of being court-martialed for My Lai, he’d have made Captain and Officer of the Year.

    3. I wonder if they wondered if meth was being cooked in there before using “distraction devices”.

      What difference does that make?

      I wonder if they wondered if varnish or lace curtains or cotton batting or cooking oil or newspapers were being used in there before using “distraction devices”?

      1. Lace curains, while flamable, tend not to explode like some meth labs do.

        That’s why.

  9. One of the most positive signs today, is that the rest of the world is starting to turn against the drug war. What it also means is that the USA will have to find more ways to use aggression around the world, for fun and profit. Only having the middle east terrorists isn’t enough. Without the international drug war, we’ll have to invent another giant clusterfuck to terrorize and kill people everywhere. And of course, we’ll also need to step it up here at home, as is already evident from all the nice gifts police departments are getting from the feds.

    1. War on exotic pets?

    2. You know, people who drive on the wrong side of the road has always been a pet peeve of mine. I say we invade next Thursday.

  10. The War On Drugs is a crime.

  11. Just so long as it was a sex selective baby burning.

  12. Did Georgia Drug Warriors Commit a Crime When They Burned and Mutilated a Toddler?

    Depends, Jacob. Is a crime defined by the legislative process of government authorities deliberating–which is how replicating particular arrangements of electrons or smoking weed or selling your kidney to someone in need of a kidney are “crimes”–or is it a reference to natural rights, meaning the right of the human ego to its own security vis a vis other human beings?

    Go to the books and search your positivist legal soul all you like, but if morality exists outside of political power structures–whether they’re god-given or socially defined in action but not design per Hayek, then law and crime have nothing to do with the legislative act.

    1. The legislated laws indeed have no positive relationship with morality. Which basically calls into question every law that lacks any ethical basis. That is unless you believe government officials are above the moral obligations that bind the rest of humanity towards each other.

      1. Haven’t really dug into Hayek’s Law, Legislation, and Liberty–Hayek requires me to hype myself up before tackling him–but after listening to a few lectures including this econtalk episode with Boudreaux, I’m more careful about the way I use the word law vs. the word legislation.

        Legislation is what legislatures do, but law is what people do by creating spontaneous and usually unconscious order. When people stand in line at Wal-Mart or navigate LA traffic without constantly assaulting or killing one another, that’s an instance of law in action. In that light, political rules and regulations are never lawful unless they happen to coincide with the actual laws that people spontaneously produce as social animals.

        It’s a transformative idea when you grasp the implications of the argument, and it’s why Hayek is one of the two or three most important philosophers, never mind economists, of the 20th century.

        1. Rothbard gives a much more thoughtful analysis of the connection between law and ethics and how it arises naturally, namely; natural law. I have no beef with Hayek per se. Just that Rothbard does better on issues of morality.

          1. I’m a deontological Rothbardian in most significant ways, but Hayek is operating in a more positivist light than Rothbard when he describes law. As a consequentialist and, from in his distinctions between legislation and law, a positivist in this respect, Hayek simply refers to what people do when left alone–they queue up at the movie theater, they observe manners for mutual benefit, and they engage in small social transactions, i.e., trade in basic accordance with game theory. It’s simply the nature of humanity to do these things without coercion, which is why manners or social conduct are emergent from human action rather than prescribed by special, necessarily top-down instruction.

            It’s been a while since I read his work in ethics, but with Rothbard, natural law generally refers to that order by which human beings can flourish individually, namely laissez-faire, which Hayek would not agree with. MNR’s understanding of law is necessarily prescriptive–if a society’s positive “law” doesn’t match the needs of natural law, then everyone suffers–and from my limited reading, this is the chief difference between the two.

  13. The Phonesavanhs have three daughters who are now scared to go to bed at night. One night after the raid, their 8-year-old woke up in the middle of the night screaming, “No, don’t kill him! You’re hurting my brother! Don’t kill him.” Alecia and Bounkahm used to tell their kids that if they were ever in trouble, they should go to the police for help. “My three little girls are terrified of the police now. They don’t want to go to sleep because they’re afraid the cops will kill them or their family,” Alecia said.

    Godfuckingdammit that makes me sad. Fuck everything about this. I’d say that I hope that every police officer involved has to carry this with them the rest of their lives (after losing their jobs, pensions, and their prison stay, of course), but if they had souls, they wouldn’t be police officers.

    1. I’d say that I hope that every police officer involved has to carry this with them the rest of their lives

      Well, the bravery medals they got for the raid are quite heavy.

      1. Not heavy enough unless the medals are pinned through their scrotums.

    2. The saddest part is that they do have souls. Perhaps some will turn from their evil due to the ongoing guilt a few of them must feel.

      Ok, at least one of them must feel bad.

      1. Only because the truth about what happened hit the papers.

        1. The pigs involved weren’t named, so they aren’t pointed at by passers by saying “that’s one of the cops who burned that baby.” That might make them feel bad. Then again, it might induce roid rage.

  14. We will sacrifice as many babies as are necessary, to catch one meth dealer.

    /drug warriors

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  16. The raid turned up no drugs, no drug dealers, and no weapons, but it left Bou Bou critically wounded by a flashbang grenade that one of the cops tossed into his crib, burning his body, blowing a hole in his chest, and detaching his nose. Now Habersham County District Attorney Brian Rickman tells WSB that a grand jury will convene on September 29 to consider whether any of that amounted to a crime.

    It’s amazing that it’s even considered questionable that this was a crime.

  17. That’s a pretty big fucking fig leaf. :-/

  18. Did the Nazis commit crimes when they burned babies?

    1. not a statutory crime. but a crime.

      1. Well, there you go.

  19. I would love to see the judge who issued the warrant put in stocks in the searing heat for a week. Oh, no, that would be cruel?..

    1. I’d settle if they duct taped a flash bang to his head and pulled the pin.

      1. I’d rather they sentence the judge to sleep in a large crib every night, with the understanding that at some future point, a flash grenade will be lobbed into said crib.
        Is that cruel and unusual?

  20. Even rudimentary surveillance should have discovered signs of children

    The police don’t do police work anymore.

    1. This is why every single member of the SWAT team should be in prison now. When they approached the house, nobody called off the raid and they didn’t change tactics. They just went Rambo and a small child was grievously injured.

    2. Police work ain’t fun, they sure enjoy this shit though.

  21. When can we start holding Judges accountable, whether through lawsuits or disbarment, for signing off on No-Knock Warrants? They ultimately have the mea culpa in these situations. We have got to have a set of incredibly high standards for signing off on No-Knocks. We the people entrust the court systems with keeping police power in check (checks and balances, people), but these Judges sign these warrants without any proof they are necessary.

  22. So let me get this straight. A grand jury, convening in the same county where this occurred, is going to indict these officers? Yeah, that’s not intimidating. Just put yourself in the shoes of one of these “regular joes” sitting there, wondering if you are willing to take the chance to indict a team (gang) of officers who have the power to find out everything about you and your family and have already killed an innocent pastor and horribly pained a little baby with no remorse.

    Hmm, if it comes to protecting my family (because maybe I have no means to move or protect myself if the indicted officers or their friends come after me) or doing what’s right, I’m probably going to protect my family.

    As much as these officers deserve a trial for their dreadful actions, I bet we don’t see an indictment come down.

  23. There is quite a lot more to the story than the summary given above. For one thing, the meth dealer (a relative of Bou Bou’s father) owned the house. For another, the cops broke into the attached garage, not the house itself. Unfortunately the family was living in the garage, because the dealer was living in the house. If you’re interested in the actual facts and not in knee-jerk accusations, read the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s stories (www.ajc.com).

    1. Well, if you live in a garage you should expect to be attacked by goons, right, chief?

    2. I mean, they were asking for it!

  24. Basically LE has become over zealous in their use of swat raids. They’ve raided people’s homes for delinquent library books and parking tickets. People are dying because of this idiocy If they want to act like combat soldiers, join the military.

  25. This is absolutely out of control and they should receive the same punishment.

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