Drug War

Georgia Grand Jury Rejects Criminal Charges Against Drug Warriors Who Burned and Mutilated a Toddler

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Phonesavanh family

Today a grand jury in Habersham County, Georgia, rejected criminal charges against the police officers who planned and executed a horribly botched drug raid that left a toddler critically injured last May. The grand jury faulted the task force that carried out the raid, which included Cornelia police officers and Habersham County sheriff's deputies, for a "hurried" and "sloppy" investigation that was "not in accordance with the best practices and procedures." But the jurors concluded that the team's negligence, which put 19-month-old Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh in the hospital for a month after a flashbang grenade exploded in his crib, did not amount to a crime.

In their presentment, the jurors said the "zeal to hold [drug dealers] accountable must not override cautious and patient judgment." They suggested such zeal leads to unnecessarily aggressive tactics that increase the likelihood of injury. "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," they wrote. "Going into a home with the highest level of entry should be reserved for those cases where it is absolutely necessary."

At the same time, the jurors expressed sympathy for the officers who participated in the raid:

Rather than seeing unfeeling or uncaring robots, what has not been seen before by others and talked or written about is that these individuals are suffering as well. We have seen and heard genuine regret and sadness on the part of the law enforcement officers involved, and we think is it fair and appropriate to point out that they are human beings as well.

I'm sure the cops feel bad about burning and mutilating a little boy, but that does not absolve them of responsibility for their reckless behavior. The early-morning, no-knock SWAT raid was aimed at an alleged meth dealer who no longer lived in the house, where Bou Bou and his family, including three sisters, were staying with relatives after a fire destroyed their home in Wisconsin. Although the aggressive tactics were supposedly justified by an expectation of violence, no weapons (or drugs) were found in the house, and the suspect was unarmed when he was arrested later that day at a different location. 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 even the most rudimentary surveillance would have revealed that fact.

"Every effort should be made in determining the presence of children," the grand jury said. "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. While no person surely intended any harm to a young child, quite simply put there should be no such thing as an 'emergency' in drug investigations."

Philip Holloway, a criminal defense attorney and former Cobb County prosecutor, sees a contradiction between the grand jury's findings and its conclusion that no one was criminally negligent. "One might argue that the grand jury is speaking out of both sides of its mouth," Holloway told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "On the one hand, the presentment speaks in terms of criminal negligence by the task force, including severely deficient supervision. Yet on the other hand, they elected not to recommend any criminal charges." Holloway added that "if an ordinary citizen were to act with the reckless disregard described by this grand jury, there can be little doubt that criminal charges would be filed."

A federal investigation of the raid is continuing, and the Phonesavanhs are expected to file a civil suit, especially since Habersham County reneged on Terrell's promise to cover Bou Bou's medical expenses.

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  1. Rather than seeing unfeeling or uncaring robots, what has not been seen before by others and talked or written about is that these individuals are suffering as well. We have seen and heard genuine regret and sadness on the part of the law enforcement officers involved, and we think is it fair and appropriate to point out that they are human beings as well.

    I, just, uh, fuck.

    1. We deserve what we get, and we deserve to get it good and hard.

    2. That’s the real issue, those poor, policemen. I feel sick.

    3. This presentment was penned by some truly demented and mentally-stunted human beings.

      1. No, I think the problem is that they think all of society is to blame, and since they can’t indict the whole world, they indict nobody.

    4. Well, I’m sure they certainly learned their lesson.

      We are so completely fucked as a people.

  2. I wonder how much longer this sort of thing is going to go on before someone takes matters into their own hands.

    1. Some day they’re going to kill someone from the wrong ethnic group.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitaly_Kaloyev

    2. Eric Frein took matters into his own hands, and now we’re living in a lockdown police state in Northeastern PA.

    3. “I wonder how much longer this sort of thing is going to go on before someone takes matters into their own hands.”

      Individuals I’ve talked to who know about these (far too common) events are asking the same question. Sadly David, most of us arrive at the conclusion that the vicinity in which someone/a group of people retaliate will immediately be “locked down” and a search similar to what we saw happen in Boston will result. Additionally, there will be some officers who will likely shoot anyone nearing the description of the person(s) they are searching for.

  3. From the most recent Dear Prudence, How Stuff Exactly Like This Might Just Happen.

    The Stasi would be in admiration of this…

    Q. Pot + Pregnancy + Pals: A dear friend and her husband recently announced that they are expecting their first child. They’re both college-educated, steadily employed, own a home, and are thrilled to become parents. I have no doubt that they will provide a loving, stable home for their child. They also occasionally smoke pot. She hasn’t touched it since trying to get pregnant, but he still indulges from time to time. They do not take any other drugs. However, a mutual friend mentioned to me that due to her job, she is a mandatory reporter, and if she hears anything about drugs after the child is born, she’ll have no choice but to call Child Protective Services. Frankly, I’d be more concerned about a heavy drinker than an occasional pot-smoker, but mandatory reporting doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room (usually with very good reason). Do I owe my friend a heads-up and risk putting myself in the middle, or sit back and let this play out?

    1. I’m really starting to hate this country.

    2. “mutual friend” HA!

      A weeks pay says this is a super-proggie area in a blue state.

      1. This story can occur ANYWHERE in this country no matter how hardcore blue or red the state.

        Neither progressives or neo/socons hold the ultimate title for minding their own businesses. They are both insipid and deliriously impregnated with their favored propaganda.

        1. I live in prog central, and thought immediately of an earnest gub lubbin lefty, but it could just as easily be a gub lubbin righty. The mandated reporter is on the same team as this grand jury and cops. Minding your own damn business doesn’t seem so damn hard, yet people just cannot do it.

          1. After some basic research it appears Habersham County is a Republican stronghold and 88% white.

            1. Which says exactly nothing about the individuals in question.

            2. If you expect SIV to think a Republican can do anything wrong, you’ll die waiting for it to happen.

            3. The dope snitch letter isn’t datelined Habersham County you fucking retard.

    3. I’m sorry. I thought Ivan already reported this, and I did not wish to waste an official’s valuable time.

  4. Well, it is the War on Drugs. Collateral damage, right? As long as the warriors went home safe, no harm–no foul.

    [hurl]

  5. These grand juries consistently appear to be nothing more than echo chambers of the state which works feverishly to maintain consistency within its brutal power base.

    Notice very little changes across state lines in regards to these violent drug task forces. Sure, they might change shape and scope when their macabre ways draw public scrutiny but their core mission of savage disregard to ethics when acting as warriors in the drug war never varies.

    People in general seem to be disturbingly bereft of the ability to critique authority and grasp just how malevolent government can be and it is clear the average person is nothing more than a pawn in the hands of the likes of Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Brian Rickman who absolutely relishes the chance to exonerate ruthless law enforcement tactics which should never be allowed within the purview of any free and open society.

    1. No, I think they understand it, but they don’t see any way to do anything about it without causing even more trouble. They think, society put these people in position where they’ve been told to take chances, so we can’t blame them for taking chances, but we can’t do anything about all of society either.

  6. What. The. Fuck.

  7. I dunno what went wrong here. I thought grand juries would indict a ham sandwich. Do two-footed pigs with the intelligence of white bread not count?

    1. Grand Juries generally do what the local persecutor tells them to do. In this case, the persecutor needed to pretend to look into the crime, but not actually punish the thugs.

      -jcr

      1. And on the rare chance grand juries do get it right a judge can throw out the case over a trifle if you recall the Ramarley Graham case.

        1. And if the case makes it to trial, the cops will show up to intimidate the jury, a la the Kelly Thomas case.

      2. Sad to see that even here not everybody realizes that grand jury indictments are about as meaningful as warrants – grand juries rubber stamp the prosecutors decision just as much as judges rubber stamp cops warrant applications. In both cases, the idea is that an independent party is supposed to double check to see if there is reasonable cause to believe the legal system is proceeding properly but the reality is that the watch dogs are asleep or dead.

        1. Or have become lapdogs.

  8. We recommend that whenever reasonably possible, …

    There’s that word again. I don’t think it means what they think it means.

    1. Cops being able to reason or utilize sound judgment is literally laughable.

    2. Reasonable: Being within the bounds of common sense.

      Common sense ain’t that common (especially for law enforcement).

  9. Who the fuck was on that grand jury?

    What a complete and utter failure.

    1. Who the fuck was on that grand jury?

      Witless morons.

      In other words, good, upstanding citizens.

  10. Peasants are there to be burned. How else are cops to play with all their shiny toys?

  11. There are so many B.S. laws that are not based in harm that can get you arrested.Have a couple beers,drive in a safe manner and you still could be arrested.Sell loose cigs on the street,grill out in front of your house.You could be arrested,maybe beaten and die.A drug raid,, throwing bombs in a reckless manner,’they mean well’.

  12. At the same time, the jurors expressed sympathy for the officers who participated in the raid

    Officer safety trumps criminal liability…again.

    We have seen and heard genuine regret and sadness on the part of the law enforcement officers involved…

    “I didn’t mean to mow 3 people down while driving blackout drunk. I feel really bad about it.”

    Although the aggressive tactics were supposedly justified by an expectation of violence

    You mean there is a possibility that someone may respond to unprovoked violence with violence? *shocked face*

  13. It’s so cute that the grand jury thinks its recommendations for how raids should be made safer will be taken at all seriously. What a joke. If you want any sort of reform or change here, there must be legal consequences for negligent action. I’m sure the officers involved do feel bad, but in the “gee, I’m sorry someone got hurt” mode, not “gee, I’m truly sorry I acted negligently.” That little bit of sadness, however, may only motivate those individuals, and maybe not even them consistently and persistently. Relying on other cops thinking before each raid “gee, if I screw up, I might feel really sad after this” is not any kind of a realistic strategy for reducing harm.

    1. Oooh, I know! Make all the officers in the raid go through a pre-raid briefing checklist and have an item on it reminding them that other cops have been really sad before when little kids got hurt on a raid. That is almost certainly the solution!

    2. Actually grand jury reports can be very influential. People forget that grand juries can do things other than indict. They can also issue reports to improve admin. of gov’t and/or lead to further investig’n. Grand juries have done some very important things in that regard. I’m sure they saw themselves in that role, and I suspect they’ll turn out to be effective.

      1. The grand jury did not call an investigation, so I’m not really clear on what “very important” things they are going to accomplish here.

        And that is a separate issue from the decision not to indict, which is granting a de facto imprimatur to the actions of the individuals involved.

        1. They did an investig’n. The only imprimatur they granted was to say the actions were probably not criminal. That’s not the same as approval.

  14. Aarrrrghh that fills me up with impotent rage. Fuuuuuck.

    Reason nut punches, better than morning coffee.

    1. Technically this was an aperitif nut punch.

  15. There’s no way a Juror wrote that presentment. No way in hell. The lack of misspellings, proper grammar, multi-syllable words and general tone all indicate that was fed to them by someone else. I call bullshit.

  16. This horrific wrist-slapping will change their reckless ways.

    1. Their crocodile tears are a soothing salve on our country’s 3rd degree burns.

  17. “quite simply put there should be no such thing as an ’emergency’ in drug investigations.”

    How was *that* sentiment allowed to sneak through?

    *** flush ***

  18. So what, exactly, absolves the king’s men of responsibility for their actions? The fact that they didn’t do their jobs properly, or the fact that they regretted the results of their incompetence?

    1. The fact that they were fighting the Glorious Drug War. The kid was just collateral damage.

    2. They’re wearing the king’s colors. What might constitute a crime for you or me does not apply to our betters. #Statism

  19. Where do they find these people?

    What the fuck do they tell them, in their “instructions”?

  20. And I can add another nutpunch to this disgusting story (on a related note):

    http://www.freep.com/story/new…../16636179/

  21. Who the hell Picked the Members of the Grand Jury?

    The President of the Policemen’s Union?

    All this crap that the Cops are Sorry and are victims.

    I feel that if Cops aren’t going to be held Criminally Liable when a Child is injured in a Drug Raid (which I find over the top with today’s SWAT Teams), the police aren’t going to slow down their escalation of becoming a Para-Military.

    Or, if we want to give Cops immunity from Criminal Prosecution, they should at least be fired if their action results in a Lawsuit in which the municipality has to pay out over $50k. Being a Police officer is the only job in which an employee can cause an incident resulting in a million dollar lawsuit and that employee is not fired.

    1. Being a Police officer is the only job in which an employee can cause an incident resulting in a million dollar lawsuit and that employee is not fired.

      Oh, I can think of a few more. What about certain employees who “work for the American People”?

    2. Being a Police officer is the only job in which an employee can cause an incident resulting in a million dollar lawsuit and that employee is not fired.

      Being a police officer is the only job in which an employee can kidnap, torture, mutilate, steal or murder and face a mere civil suit and maybe paid time off work. The human cost of their privilege is staggeringly higher and more important than monetary damages.

  22. Damn right the family is expected to file a civil suit.

  23. There is literally no hope.

  24. “There is a consensus among courts and commentators that, historically, common law grand juries performed a public reporting function by identifying official misconduct without initiating prosecution.”

    That’s from http://scholarship.law.upenn.e…..law_review . See, it’s likely that the grand jury saw the problem as bigger than the behavior of merely the officials immediately involved, and that indicting them would’ve given the misimpression that the problem was just the recklessness of the few, rather than systematic.

    1. I love common law traditions. However the grand jury system we have has been basatardized by statutory law and co-opted by the prosecutors that keep them on a leash. Grand juries as we have them are symbolic of their common law origins, not representative of them.

    2. See, it’s likely that the grand jury saw the problem as bigger than the behavior of merely the officials immediately involved, and that indicting them would’ve given the misimpression that the problem was just the recklessness of the few, rather than systematic.

      So thieves and hoodlums in the inner city shouldn’t be indicted because there’s a greater “systematic” problem afoot?

      This is utter rubbish.

      1. Thieves & hoodlums know what they’re doing is wrong. The police in this case are like, “Isn’t this how you wanted us to act, at least in gen’l terms?” And they really believe it. The grand jury told them, no, but didn’t think they had mens rea or were reckless at the time. If they do it again, then they will.

  25. Rather than seeing unfeeling or uncaring robots, what has not been seen before by others and talked or written about is that these individuals are suffering as well. We have seen and heard genuine regret and sadness on the part of the law enforcement officers involved, and we think is it fair and appropriate to point out that they are human beings as well.

    I fucking hate grand juries. They’re supposed to be a check on the capricious use of judicial system itself. However grand juries are really just yesmen for the prosecutors who enjoy the privilege of telling the grand jury what questions to ask and then telling them what their answer is allowed to be.

    1. But grand juries have subpoena power and can call others if they want to hear them, regardless of what the prosecutor thinks. They just don’t realize their powers.

  26. Long time reader, first time poster. While I am pleased these stories are getting more and more attention (although, race is the wrong reason for that) it is still deeply concerning that every time I go online I see a video of a cop shooting some innocent person, or read a story about a cop going to the wrong house like this and just outright murdering people, and time and time again getting off for the same reason- and yet I see barely any outrage, except by people posting here. Apaprently there are SWAT proof bars you can buy to install on your doors, maybe I will get one, so I dont get shot in the face in my sleep by some pansy asshole who feels threatened by who knows what that I might have done to deserve to get shot in the face

  27. It’s interesting that ‘Reason’ is such a victim of emotion. This is a tragic outcome, but clearly more the fault of parents/guardians/adults? who practice their illegal trade in close proximity to children.

    If you criticize Hamas for storing their missiles in elementary schools….

    Oh, and the parents of the kids who didn’t OD, die, turn to a life of crime or prostitution because another drug dealer was off the streets feel bad for this child, but are glad that their own isn’t tossing salads in exchange for a hit.

    1. You say prostitution like it is a bad thing.

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