When Drug Warriors Burn a Baby, Who's to Blame?

A federal indictment reopens questions about a raid that critically injured a toddler.



Last year a Georgia drug raid that critically injured a toddler horrified people across the country and prompted much discussion of paramilitary police tactics. This week a federal grand jury indicted the cop who initiated the raid for lying on the search warrant application. In my latest Forbes column, I argue that the problems reflected by this sickening incident go far beyond police dishonesty:

Shortly after midnight on May 28, 2014, Habersham County, Georgia, Deputy Sheriff Nikki Autry asked Magistrate Judge James Butterworth for a "no knock" warrant to search a house on Lakeview Heights Circle in Cornelia. In her application, Autry, a special agent with the Mountain Judicial Circuit Narcotics Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team, said a confidential informant "was able to purchase a quantity of methamphetamine from Wanis Thonetheva" at the house she wanted to search. She said the informant was known to be "true and reliable," having "provided information in the past that has led to criminal charges on individuals selling illegal narcotics in Habersham County." She added that she had personally "confirmed that there is heavy traffic in and out of the residence."

According to a federal indictment announced yesterday, none of that was true. The confidential informant was newly minted and therefore had no track record, and it was his roommate who claimed to have bought meth from Thonetheva. "There was no police surveillance to verify the purchase," federal prosecutors say. Nor did Autry monitor the house to verify that a lot of people were going in and out. According to the indictment, she made up those crucial details to manufacture probable cause for a search.

Ordinarily such misrepresentations might never come to light, and if they did few people aside from defendants and their lawyers would care. But in this case, the warrant that Autry obtained led to a drug raid that critically injured a toddler, which made it a national news story. Images of a smiling little boy juxtaposed with pictures of him lying unconscious in the hospital, horribly disfigured by a flashbang grenade tossed into his playpen during the raid, prompted much discussion of police tactics but not enough consideration of the goals served by those tactics. The war on drugs, as the name suggests, is inherently violent, and as long as it continues we are sure to see more tragedies like this one.

Read the whole thing.

NEXT: No Parking

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  1. We put weapons of war in the hands of careless people. We're to blame.

    And do you suppose Magistrate Judge James Butterworth will be extra wary the next time a no-knock raid application is shoved under his nose?

    1. What's this 'we' shit? I didn't give weapons to these fuckers.

      1. So you confess to tax evasion?

        1. *I didn't voluntarily give weapons to these fuckers


          1. Well, we'll let it go, but just this once!

    2. And do you suppose Magistrate Judge James Butterworth will be extra wary the next time a no-knock raid application is shoved under his nose?

      Sure, he'll actually ask the lying cop if they're really sure before he uses his rubber stamp.

      1. He's an accessory to murder at least.

        1. The kid survived, so attempted murder.

          1. Goddamn. Not that it'd ever happen, but I bet judges would have been a bit more careful if the judge had been charged with felony murder after the Kathryn Johnston shooting.

    3. Judges, as guardians of our Constitution, play an indispensable role in protecting the rights and liberties of individuals entrenched in the Constitution. Charged with the indispensable responsibility of reviewing warrant applications, they protect the rights and interests of individuals by remaining mindful of the reasonableness embedded in the Fourth Amendment's delicate balance. The procedural rules attendant to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement both reasonably protect the innocent and permit investigation of suspected criminal conduct. A judge reviewing a warrant request must always balance the nature and quality of the intrusion on an individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the importance of the governmental interests alleged to justify the intrusion. Further, this balance invokes carefully weighing the extent to which each level of intrusion in the execution of the warrant is needed. Each level of intrusion involves an implicit assertion by the government that the intrusion is "reasonable" to recover the evidence described in the warrant despite the compromise of the individual's interests in privacy. Ultimately, to be fair and effective, the overall assessment of reasonableness requires the judge reviewing the warrant to carefully evaluate the need for each additional level of intrusion in the process of seizing evidence.

      1. That's from the opinion allowing the warrant served on Facebook for "everything you got" on 381 people who may or may not have known somebody who may or may not have committed a crime - i.e., a Japanese-scale fishing expedition. The opinion was not saying that this is what judges should do, the opinion was saying that this is what judges do do.
        Together, these ex ante and ex post protections typically work to successfully ensure that the government does not exceed its authority when requesting or executing a search warrant.
        And these people said this with a straight face.

  2. The baby had to be burnt to save him from a potential meth habit 20 years down the track. DON'T YOU CARE ABOUT BABIES?

    1. We had to burn the baby to save the baby. Anyway, if you want to make an omelet, you gotta break few eggs, amirite?

      1. A baby was lit up (literally), but at least the officers went home safe. That's what really matters.

        1. Plus if the baby died, it could've been salvaged for parts anyway. So win-win either way.

          1. Too old, Post-natal parts have less value, especially burned.

            1. Even the livers?

              1. Parts is parts.

  3. Deputy Sheriff Nikki Autry, almost The Worst.

    1. Well, she is named Nikki.

      1. Ban the name Nikki.

        1. For the Children

  4. Two people killed in movie theater: ban guns across the whole country.

    Innocent babies maimed and killed in drug raids: hey, bad things happen sometimes.

  5. When Drug Warriors Burn a Baby, Who's to Blame?

    'Patriarchy' and 'White Supremacy'?


  6. If that baby hadn't chosen to live in a house these innocent cops were going to mistake for a drug den and then lie about, none of this would have happened.

    1. The baby signed the Social Contract, after all.

      1. Nice.

    2. That is pretty much their literal argument.

  7. There are so many levels of callousness in these stories, it is just amazing. You not only have the police leadership blaming everyone in the world except themselves when something goes wrong, everyone else along the chain of responsibility seems to have absolutely no sense of compassion for other human beings. It is routine for the police and their employers to deny any responsibility when they damage property executing their duties (like breaking down doors, tearing up couches, ripping up cabinets, etc.) but for the county board to see this little kid maimed for life and punt all responsibility back to the (entirely innocent) family is unconscionable.

    I suppose they were able to use the families mounting medical bills as a lever to get them to settle, but one can't help but speculate about the quality of their representation if they accepted a settlement that didn't even cover their medical bills. Still, if you are representing the county in this one and you go home celebrating your victory you have to be a grade-A dick.

    1. Still, if you are representing the county in this one and you go home celebrating your victory you have to be a grade-A dick.


  8. Autry, a special agent with the ... Narcotics Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team

    1) Are there no *ordinary* agents anymore?

    2) NCIST, eh? Might want to rethink *that* acronym.

      1. Well, as least it's not the Narcotics Criminal *Examination* and Suppression Team.

  9. According to the indictment, she made up those crucial details to manufacture probable cause for a search.

    Her defense should be that manufacturing probably cause is her job. Seriously. All she did was put down boilerplate language like she was trained to do at the academy. The job of the police is to use force and fraud. She simply did her job by committing fraud. Nothing to see here. Move along. Next.

    1. *probable*

    2. Exactly. The only difference here is that there was a stink about business as usual because of a sympathetic victim.

      1. Sadly, I am inclined to agree with both of you. Had there actually been a meth operation there and a few individuals with police records and/or a history of violence instead of an innocent family and little Bounkham, I think that far too many of us would have shrugged the entire affair off.

      2. "Sympathetic victim"? Hey, "Toddler Lives Matter" don't exactly roll off the tongue!

        1. But "Think of the Children" gets a knee-jerk reaction

  10. So let me get this right. Sheriff lies on warrant application. Judge signs. SWAT team shows up unannounced without casing the joint and apparently without doing ANY pre-raid intel. They knock the doors down and maim a baby. And then it's the fault of someone who wasn't even there. There's not even any criminal negligence charges brought against the officers.

    And why aren't people burning the police station down?

    1. And why aren't people burning the police station down?

      Cause cops used all the incindiery devices in town on babies?

    2. Because officers are heroes, and are always right?

  11. This guy is to blame

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