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Jury Acquits the Only Cop Who Faced Charges After a Drug Raid Maimed a Toddler

Nikki Autry claimed she lied on a search warrant affidavit by mistake.

WBRCWBRCOn Friday a jury acquitted a former Georgia sheriff's deputy of federal civil rights charges in connection with a May 2014 drug raid that gravely injured a toddler. Nikki Autry, a Habersham County deputy who was serving as a special agent with the Mountain Judicial Circuit Narcotics Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team, signed the application for the warrant that authorized the early-morning, no-knock raid, which found no drugs, guns, or money and left 19-month-old Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh burned and mutilated by a flashbang grenade that landed in the playpen where he was sleeping. Autry's affidavit included several crucial misrepresentations, and during her trial the magistrate who issued the warrant testified that he would not have done so if she had told the truth.

Autry said a confidential informant "was able to purchase a quantity of methamphetamine from Wanis Thonetheva," Bou Bou's cousin, at the house she wanted to search, which belongs to Thoentheva's mother. Autry 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."

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, a report that was not verified by police surveillance. Nor did Autry monitor the house to verify that a lot of people were going in and out.

Federal prosecutors argued that Autry, whom they described as "an overzealous police officer" with "no respect for the people she's investigating," made up those crucial details to manufacture probable cause for a search. She testified that the affidavit was prepared by a supervisor, Officer.com reports, but "acknowledged she reviewed it and recommended no changes be made despite numerous inconsistencies." Her attorneys portrayed that failure as unintentional. Prosecutors emphasized that the raid would not have happened without Autry's misrepresentations. "If there had never been a search warrant, Bou Bou would've never been injured," Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill McKinnon said. "There's a direct causation."

Autry was charged with four violations of Title 18, Section 242, which makes it a federal crime to deprive someone of his constitutional rights "under color of any law." That offense is generally punishable by up to a year in jail, but if "bodily harm" results, as happened in this case, the maximum penalty rises to 10 years.

Although Autry's "mistakes" led directly to Fourth Amendment violations that resulted in Bou Bou's injuries, the jury declined to hold her responsible. Her attorneys argued that Autry, who is the only officer to face charges as a result of the raid, became a scapegoat for other people's errors. They noted that Charles Long, the deputy who threw the grenade that nearly killed Bou Bou, had violated protocol by failing to illuminate the room before using the explosive device. "There's a pattern of excess in the ways search warrants are executed," defense attorney Michael Trost said during his closing argument on Friday. "That's what led to the injuries to this child."

In October 2014 a Habersham County grand jury faulted Autry for a "hurried" and "sloppy" investigation. The jurors "gave serious and lengthy consideration as to whether to recommend criminal charges" against her but decided that her resignation "in lieu of possible termination," combined with her surrender of the peace officer certification that enabled her to work in law enforcement, was "more appropriate than criminal charges and potential jail time." But the grand jurors did not consider the allegation that Autry lied in her search warrant affidavit, a charge that was included in a federal lawsuit filed by Bou Bou's parents in February.

"We are so proud of Nikki for standing up for what she believed in," one of Autry's lawyers said after Friday's verdict. But even if we accept Autry's dubious defense that the misrepresentations in her affidavit were a product of carelessness rather than deliberate deception, the only principle she has vindicated is that drug warriors can endanger innocent people's lives through sloppy police work without committing a crime. 

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  • db||

    A registered professional engineer signs off on a bridge design that she has not personally overseen. The bridge collapses and injures people and damages property.

    You damn well better believe she is criminally and civilly liable for the outcome and a jury would hang her high.

    Why don't cops have to live up the same basic standards of professionalism?

  • some guy||

    I'm sure the Sheriff's office has thoroughly reviewed its practices and procedures to ensure only actual petty criminals get horribly burned/maimed in future raids. What more do you want?

  • ||

    Ha, ha.

    I just don't get how these cops getting off for their violence and harm they cause on civilians. It's amazing as it is shocking.

  • Adans smith||

    'Heroes' even trump the children.

  • Muzzled Woodchipper||

    Cops are civilians too.

  • MSimon||

    Except when they are not. Depending on circumstances and what is best for the officer.

  • Atanarjuat||

    FYTW

    Also, would a bunch of other engineers come and snarl at members of the jury during the trial, like cops do? I think not.

  • Ted S.||

    Dammit, somebody beat me to the FYTW punch.

    My smartphone spell-checker gave me FYTW as an option when I mistyped it FUTW. I guess I've typed it so many times the software expects it.

  • ||

    Lolz

  • Whahappan?||

    "Why don't cops have to live up the same basic standards of professionalism?"

    It would be nice if cops, prosecutors and judges were held to the same standards as toddlers.

  • Jake Stone||

    Psshaw

    We all know women can't be engineers. They are systematically excluded from STEM in this country, remember?

  • woodNfish||

    Why don't cops have to live up the same basic standards of professionalism?

    Because juries don't make them.

  • Trigger Hippie||

    So, the logic for the not guilty verdict is basically, not enough people charged, patterns of excess in the way warrants are executed; ergo, procedures were followed, and rathar than lying, she's only guily of: mistakes were made.

    She's not guilty of being an overzealous, lying, criminally negligent authoritarian cunt, just oopsies!

    Thanks for the Monday morning nutpunch Jacob.

  • some guy||

    So many ways for a prosecutor to protect his buddies in blue, his partners in crime, as it were. He can undercharge, ensuring the officer gets off lightly. He can overcharge, ensuring the case gets thrown out. He can combine the two by overcharging a scapegoat when the real problem is institutional. He can ignore the whole thing and just chant "for the children, tough on crime" at any media outlet that will listen.

    So many ways for a prosecutor to make sure justice is not done.

  • Mickey Rat||

    We have also seen a judge throw out an undercharge on the theory that the cop should have been charged with murder, but ends up being convicted for nothing.

  • Chowder||

    This was a federal prosecutor, who would not have had any connection to the cops.

  • Cyto||

    Other than "team" affiliation. Unless he sees the officer's actions as a betrayal of the team, even a federal prosecutor isn't going to go full-force after a member of the team.

    When Federal prosecutors are involved, the chances of winning an acquittal are minimal. All of the deck is stacked against the defense when the Feds choose to come after you. We all know that you are unlikely to even chance a trial when the Feds get involved. Yet this officer faced one manageable charge that could have been charged with multiple mandatory-minimum felonies, garnering a plea-bargain.

    In a federal case, this is a tell. If you haven't been charged with life-ending mandatory minimums, they weren't all that serious about the case.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I suppose we'll never know the jury's intention here. Perhaps each of them truly believes that all's fair in love and drug war.

  • Muzzled Woodchipper||

    We're it that there were 1 jury nullifier on every 5th jury in drug cases instead of effectively none because they're all dismissed by prosecutors.*

    Hanging 1 in 5 drug cases would do some goddamn good. I'm not sure they could retry 20% of their cases for petty drug crimes.

    *It'd be better if everyone were practiced jury nullification.

  • UnCivilServant||

    *grumble*

    I go to the local paper and see some good news about a Jury convicting the second of the "Three Men in a Room" who used to run New York, and was happy until I got over here and found this.

    You just had to derail my day, didn't you?

  • ||

    And the trust in law enforcement continues to erode.

    So these assholes maim a kid (and were lucky they didn't kill him) based on utter incompetence and they get off.

    Nice.

    Jesus.

  • UnCivilServant||

    They've gotten away with intentional murder before, so why would an accidental maiming turn out different?

  • Trigger Hippie||

    On a lighter note, how was the Andy Kim concert?

  • ||

    "We are so proud of Nikki for standing up for what she believed in,"

    She believed in being an immoral, unprofessional cunt who didn't take human life too seriously?

    Fuck everyone involved in this case. If I were to read any them fell to an unfortunate passing in their lives I wouldn't shed a tear as they don't deserve it.

  • Trigger Hippie||

    I think our resident Nikki just found competition for title of The Worst.

  • Muzzled Woodchipper||

    I lol'd.

  • Princess Trigger||

    She stood up for the Principal of incompetence, murderous zealotry, and non accountability that are the hallmarks of our police forces?

  • Cyto||

    No, she stood up for "drugs are bad, m'kay". Lying on a warrant affidavit is the least a conscientious officer can do to prevent the scourge of drugs. Look, she believed they would find drugs there.... if you don't like it, grab a rifle and stand a post.

  • Ted S.||

    I'm not surprised somebody commented on that quote, too.

  • B. Woodrow Chippenhaus||

    Apparently you can't blame the cops for lying to a judge in order to get a warrant.

  • ||

    Members of the CJ system - Keep it up. Lets see how far you can push the limits before the public completely loses confidence in you.

  • Paul Pot||

    The drug war is a "Crime Against Humanity".
    All wars end and when they do the war trials begin.
    End the drug war.
    Begin the drug war trials.

  • Cyto||

    Nah, not even funny. For farce to have comedy, it has to bend reality to a point of ridiculousness, but it still has to have a thread of reality connected to it.

  • MSimon||

    Mistakes were made.

  • Rich||

    "We are so proud of Nikki for standing up for what she believed in," one of Autry's lawyers said after Friday's verdict.

    STFU! The trial's over already!

    Paging Barfman ....

  • Muzzled Woodchipper||

    Paging Sandi. There's a front porch that needs some serious fertilizing.

  • Adans smith||

    I'd like to point out that this story should have been covered on the news channels with the same vigor as other ,less worthy stories that go on and on [ cough Trump cough] .And yet,nary a word after the first reports.

  • Atanarjuat||

    I'd be pleasantly surprised if this got 1/20th the attention of the Ferguson clusterfuck, but it won't.

  • Cyto||

    No, I think we've established that the narrative is to find cases where a black person was harmed by the police, but in a case where there is reason to believe that the use of force might be justified more than the initial story indicates.

    That way we can use the story to gin up the base on both sides, distracting from the real issues at hand. Win/win, baby!

  • Muzzled Woodchipper||

    Nail, meet the hammer.

    Cases of police brutality in the news are designed to create widespread controversy. The point is to give everyone meat to chew on.

    They want eyes on screen/in the column. Being the 4th estate trails in the distance of ratings.

  • Atanarjuat||

    "We are so proud of Nikki for standing up for what she believed in," one of Autry's lawyers said after Friday's verdict.

    ...That lying on a warrant and more than that, being above the law meant to constrain tyrants and their agents, fundamental to this country's founding doesn't matter? Yeah, good job standing up for that, I guess.

    Woodchippers.

  • sarcasmic||

    How can laws constrain the tyrants who enforce them?

  • perlchpr||

    It's like they want to leave us with nothing left but the woodchippers as an option.

  • sarcasmic||

    The jurors "gave serious and lengthy consideration as to whether to recommend criminal charges" against her but decided that her resignation "in lieu of possible termination," combined with her surrender of the peace officer certification that enabled her to work in law enforcement, was "more appropriate than criminal charges and potential jail time."

    I assume that the acquittal means she'll sue to get her certifications back, as well as her job, with back pay.

  • Muzzled Woodchipper||

    This post sucks because every shitty outcome of this already bullshit case is fucking true.

    Yes. I'd put a small wager on her getting her job back with back-pay.

    That's just fucked up.

  • BigT||

    "Her attorneys argued that Autry, who is the only officer to face charges as a result of the raid, became a scapegoat for other people's errors. They noted that Charles Long, the deputy who threw the grenade that nearly killed Bou Bou, had violated protocol by failing to illuminate the room before using the explosive device."

    Since more than one person f'd up, no one will be held responsible! Amazing!!

    But this is exactly how the pig that jumped on the hood of that car in Cleveland and emptied his gun into the occupants got off. (The high speed chase with 139 rounds fired into the car) The prosecutor could not prove that those particular shots killed anyone. Rather than holding ALL to account, they held no one to account.

    FYTW

  • sarcasmic||

    I guess R.I.C.O. doesn't apply to cops.

  • Cyto||

    Because the group culpability in felony murder cases does not apply if you are wearing your magic shirt and magic medallion.

  • perlchpr||

    Gotta respect the clown suit.

  • MetalBard||

    And yet there is a large segment of the population that considers that justified. The root problem isn't psychotic cops, or a corrupt criminal justice system it's that you have such a large number of Americans that will fall to their knees and lick the badge. Who consider every violent act ok as long as the thug is dressed in blue. Hell I know some people that defend the Tamir Rice shooting.

    Until you deal with that nothing is going to get done.

  • Cyto||

    Not some people, a lot of people. It stems from myopic or misplaced empathy. They see themselves in the place of the LEO who opens his car door feet from someone with a gun and only a second to take decisive action to save his life. Operating with this set of facts, it is easy to understand how you might shoot someone with a fake gun.

    People on the other side of the issue tend to empathize with the 12 year old kid playing in the park. A police car drives up into the grass, two officers jump out and before you can figure out what is happening they shoot you dead.

    In reality we need to understand the circumstances and motivations of everyone involved if things are to change. The person who jumps out of the car in a potentially dangerous situation isn't superhuman. Expecting people to be perfect in this situation is silly. Better that we focus on the series of inept decisions made by their superiors that led up to this deadly encounter.

    Like training the officers that they have to shoot the second they see a weapon. Or having them close the distance so quickly - thereby creating a split-second decision. Or failing to have a clear chain of command and communication so that multiple people aren't shouting at the same time. Or using a SWAT raid in the middle of the night when there is zero evidence of violent offenders being present. The list goes on and on and on. The failure is at the leadership level.

  • MSimon||

    What about hailing the kid from a distance and asking him to drop the gun?

  • SugarFree||

    Hell I know some people that defend the Tamir Rice shooting.

    And a few of those people post here and call themselves libertarians.

  • Chowder||

    Yeah, I'm perplexed as to how the judge even allowed that argument to be made to the jury. "Other people did it too" is usually not an admissible defense in criminal cases.

  • sarcasmic||

    Cops aren't people.

  • Roger the Shrubber||

    H/T Balko
    Neighbors worried after police storm wrong house, open fire

    Alexander said it's too early to tell if training was an issue in the incident, but new policies and procedures are constantly being implemented at the department.

    "We are employing all the latest recommendations that you can imagine into this department as we confront these issues," Alexander said.

    Alexander said after the investigation is complete and he has a better idea as to how this played out, and what went wrong, he'll know how to proceed with training or retraining issues at that time.

    'I don't know if training was the problem, but it is the solution!'

  • Juvenile Bluster||

    The cops shot the homeowner and killed his dog. They did shoot each other, so at least some good came out of this.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Not enough. They should raid the governor's and AG's house. And kill anyone/anything that moves. He should be SWATted.

  • block30||

    Hasn't research supported that women typically get lighter punishment meted out as opposed to the exact same crimes committed by a man? Sexism!!! Oh wait, sexism can only work ONE way as defined by the Victim Definition Bureau.

  • gaoxiaen||

    I hope that everyone in Niki Autry's family dies a slow painful death from colorectal cancer. Especially his/her youngest child. FUCK. THAT. ASSHOLE.

  • gaoxiaen||

    However, if there's a more painful way to die, I wish that on them.

  • MSimon||

    I hope that everyone in Niki Autry's family dies a slow painful death from colorectal cancer.

    Can you catch that from wood chippers?

  • Mike A.||

    Ma, where' s my Woodchipper?

  • ace_m82||

    "Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly."

    /not me

  • Agent Cupcake||

    This case has infuriated me since it happened. I do not understand how a jury can hear the evidence, look at that poor baby and hear about his injuries and shrug and say, "No biggie."

    My cynicism is almost as intense as my general misanthropy.

  • mswen||

    As much as I hate to say it, she was probably telling the truth about the application being prepared by a supervisor. And she was probably expected to just look it over and sign it, rather than making any changes that may have prevented getting the warrant. It sounds like a standard statement of "what a judge wants to hear". If there hadn't been a baby injured, a family would have had their home torn apart, and the police would have explained the absence of any drugs by saying they just showed up on the wrong day. Another day, another raid, more innocent people have their lives disrupted by the police. How else are we going to teach them to respect the law?

    One of the major problems here is the use of confidential informants (CIs). In most cases, CIs have zero accountability, and virtually never testify in court or have to face a defense attorney (in violation of the 6th Amendment). This one was new, but was represented as experienced and reliable, and his roommate's experience was distorted to look like his personal experience. There is little to prevent an officer from completely fabricating a CI, to prevent a CI from working both sides, by selling someone drugs, then collecting payment for a tip that gets that person busted, or an Informant from using the police to eliminate his/her competition. The latter two have absolutely happened, I find it hard to believe the first one hasn't.

  • MSimon||

    Notional agents are easier to handle than real ones.

  • Alan@.4||

    Please bear with me re the following, I have this tendency to sometimes ask dumb questions. Re the antics of the police agencies and individuals involved in this criminal fiasco, whatever happened to Serve And Protect? If that turns out to be a dumb question, apologies offered.

  • MSimon||

    Serve And Protect WHO?

  • Hank Phillips||

    Well duh! They are in there enforcing the death penalty George Holy War Bush repeatedly demanded and engraved in his speeches and papers--constitutional death penalty for hemp kingpins. This is War, and there have to be casualties and collateral damage. The judge is simply supporting the Republican Party's child-maiming and teenager-shooting death squad troops.

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