UPDATE: The mother of a 19-month-old boy critically injured when a police device was tossed into his bed in Habersham County said Friday there is no way officers should not have known there were children in the house.
“They say there were no toys,” Alecia Phonesavanh told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. “There is plenty of stuff. Their shoes were laying all over.”
ORIGINAL REPORT: A 19-month-old boy critically injured when a police device was tossed into his bed has a 50 percent chance of surviving, his parents said today. But a northeast Georgia sheriff defends the officers’ actions, calling it a tragic accident.
“The last thing you want is law enforcement to injure someone innocent,” Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “There was no malicious act performed. It was a terrible accident that was never supposed to happen.”
Hours after a confidential informant said he bought methamphetamine from Wanis Thometheva at a Habersham County home late Tuesday, officers returned to the home to arrest him.
Thometheva, 30, of Cornelia, wasn’t a stranger to them, police say. Terrell said that during a prior arrest on drug charges, investigators discovered Thometheva had weapons, including an AK-47.
“That’s the threat he uses to those who don’t do what he wants,” Terrell said.
Thometheva was not at the home at the time of the raid but was later arrested at another house on a felony drug charge of distribution of meth.
Officers had no indication that any children were inside the Lakeview Heights home when they returned around 3 a.m. Wednesday, Terrell said, and approached the same door where drugs had been purchased.
That door, which leads into a former garage that has been remodeled into a bedroom, was locked, so officers opened it, the Sheriff said. Then, a distraction device, or flash bang, was tossed inside.
“It distracts them so you can make entrance,” Terrell said.
But this time, the device landed in the playpen where a toddler was sleeping. Little Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanhs and his family, including parents and three older sisters, were all asleep in the room while visiting from Wisconsin. Only the little boy was injured.
“It blew open his face and his chest,” the boy’s mother, Alecia Phonesavanh, told The AJC outside Grady Memorial Hospital. “Everybody was asleep. It’s not like anyone was trying to fight.”
A medic began rendering aid to the boy before the child was transported to Grady, Terrell said. Foggy weather made helicopter travel unsafe, he said.
Bou Bou is now in a medically induced coma, his parents said, and it could be weeks before it’s known if he’ll survive and what treatment he’ll need. The family was only supposed to be in Georgia temporarily after a fire at their Wisconsin home, the Phonesavanhs said.
“We have nothing to do with this ( drugs),” father Bounkham “Bou” Phonesavanh said.
Now, the family of six faces weeks of uncertainty, unsure how long the boy will be hospitalized, and where they’ll live in the meantime. A family friend has created an online fund-raising page to help with costs.
The family is angry, but hopefully the boy makes a full recovery. His sisters, ages 3, 5, and 7, haven’t been able to see him, but have recorded messages for him to hear, such as, “I know you got hurt but we love you, Bou Bou.”
Added the father: “I hold his hand to comfort him. We’re close, that’s my boy, my only son.”
Terrell said he contacted the GBI, but was told no further investigation is needed.
“Our hearts are broken with them because of the child,” Terrell said.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.