SWAT Grenade Severely Burns Toddler and Leaves Innocent Family with $1M in Medical Bills

Originally published on December 21, 2014, at NationofChange.org

While executing a no-knock search warrant on the wrong house, a SWAT team from the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office nearly killed a 19-month-old toddler sleeping in his crib. Scarred with multiple burns and a collapsed lung, the toddler was rushed to the hospital and placed in a medically induced coma. A grand jury declined to indict the sheriff’s deputies involved in the raid, and city officials refuse to pay his exorbitant medical bills.

After a fire destroyed their home in Wisconsin earlier this year, Bounkham Phonesavanh, his wife Alecia, and their four young children temporarily moved in with Bounkham’s sister in Cornelia, Georgia. Two months 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 2am 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 19-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.

Instead of allowing Alecia to see her wounded son, Habersham Deputy Jason Stribling picked up the toddler, left the room, and waited outside for an ambulance. As the deputies detained the family and searched the house for drugs, Alecia and her husband discovered a pool of blood and burn marks in the crib. Their son’s pillow had been blown apart.

Continue reading

Manslaughter Charge Dropped for Cop Who Killed 7-Year-Old Girl

Originally published on October 5, 2014, at NationofChange.org

A judge has dismissed the involuntary manslaughter charge against a Detroit police officer responsible for shooting a 7-year-old girl in the head. Although Officer Joseph Weekley has been caught lying about the incident to lessen the severity of his punishment, he has not been charged with perjury or obstruction of justice. With the felony manslaughter charge dropped, Weekley only faces a misdemeanor charge of negligent firing of a weapon causing death.

On May 16, 2010, a camera crew from A&E’s “The First 48” filmed the Detroit Police Department’s Special Response Team executing a “no knock” search warrant just past midnight. Seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones slept on the couch alongside her grandmother, Mertilla Jones. Wrapped within a blanket, Aiyana laid her head on the armrest next to the front door. Mertilla laid on the couch with her head on the opposite armrest.

A window shattered as police threw a flashbang grenade onto the couch burning Aiyana’s blanket. After opening the unlocked front door, Officer Weekley fired a single bullet into the top of Aiyana’s head. According to Macomb County Medical Examiner Daniel Spitz, the bullet had passed through her brain, exited through her neck, and grazed her chest.

Unbeknownst to the police, they had raided the wrong apartment. The suspect, Chauncey Owens, lived upstairs.

Continue reading

Innocent Civilian Deaths Caused by Police Militarization

Originally published on August 23, 2014, at NationofChange.org

With the aggressive militarization of America’s police forces, innocent bystanders and family members often enter the crosshairs. For decades, federal programs have devised incentives for state and local police to utilize unnecessarily hostile weapons and battlefield tactics against civilians. Operating with a glaring lack of transparency and almost no public oversight, militarized police forces rarely find themselves accountable for their actions.

In a recent ACLU report titled War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policingthe Senior Counsel with the ACLU’s Center for Justice, Kara Dansky wrote, “The ACLU found through the course of this investigation that the excessive militarism in policing, particularly through the use of paramilitary policing teams, escalates the risk of violence, threatens individual liberties, and unfairly impacts people of color.”

After filing public records requests with more than 255 law enforcement agencies, 114 of the agencies denied the ACLU’s request. While investigating excessive weapon stockpiles and police militarization, the ACLU found a disturbing trend in Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams being used beyond their original mandate. Previously, SWAT teams had only been deployed to handle hostage, sniper, or terrorist threats. Now, SWAT teams conduct drug busts, disperse protesters, and execute “no knock” search warrants in residential neighborhoods.

Continue reading