Originally published on July 23, 2015, at NationofChange.org
The former Habersham County sheriff’s deputy responsible for the botched drug raid that nearly killed an 18-month-old toddler was indicted by a federal grand jury on Wednesday for providing false evidence to obtain a “no-knock” search warrant. Instead of following procedures, former deputy Nikki Autry allegedly cut corners and provided false information, which resulted in a SWAT team raiding an innocent family’s house and tossing a flashbang grenade into the face of their young child. Although the county initially refused to pay the toddler’s medical expenses, officials eventually reached a settlement with the family after evidence emerged of Autry’s lies and the SWAT team’s negligence.
On the evening of May 27, 2014, Deputy Autry, who was also an agent of the Mountain Judicial Circuit’s drug unit, presented an affidavit to Judge James Butterworth falsely swearing that a trusted informant had recently purchased methamphetamine from a residence in Cornelia, Georgia. According to the indictment, Autry had used an unofficial and unreliable informant who never actually entered the residence or purchased any drugs from anyone inside the house. Based on Autry’s false information, Judge Butterworth issued a “no-knock” search warrant for the residence and an arrest warrant for the alleged drug dealer, Wanis Thonetheva.
After catching him stealing several valuables from her, Thonetheva’s mother had kicked him out of her house months earlier. When a fire destroyed her brother’s house in Wisconsin, she invited her brother, Bounkham Phonesavanh, his wife, Alecia, and their four young children to temporarily move in with her. Six weeks later, they found a new house in Wisconsin and were planning to return home when a SWAT team raided their bedroom in the middle of the night.
Around 2 a.m. on May 28, the SWAT team broke down their door as Habersham Deputy Charles Long threw a flashbang grenade into their bedroom. The grenade landed in the crib of 18-month-old Bounkham Phonesavanh Jr., blowing a hole through his chest and leaving third-degree burns along his face and torso. After slamming her husband to the floor, deputies ordered Alecia to sit down and shut up as she asked to hold her screaming child.