Governor interested in results of Habersham raid investigation

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Gov. Nathan Deal said Monday he’s awaiting an investigation of the botched drug raid in Habersham County that left a child on life support to determine if any executive action or state legislation is needed.

“Any time you have bad facts like this one, it does give you cause for concern,” Deal said. “It’s one of those things that require a thorough investigation … to know what if anything we can learn from it.”

Habersham County District Attorney Brian Rickman said he is investigating whether any officers violated the law when they used a controversial “no-knock warrant” for a raid on a Cornelia house Wednesday.

A criminal finding would require officers to have acted recklessly or illegally but he said he expected the raid will prompt an investigation into no-knock warrants and tactics, Rickman said.

“There is no question that you want to know how you happened and how could it have been prevented and that no-knocks are only being used where they are necessary,” Rickman told the Atlanta Journal Constitution Monday. “There is no question they are among the more dangerous for everybody involved.”

The lawyer representing the 19-month-old baby critically wounded by a police stun grenade is asking for state and federal investigators to review the Habersham raid. He said contentions by Sheriff Joey Terrell that officers did not know four small children were present in the house didn’t pass the smell test.

Police surveillance should have revealed that children had been playing in front of the the house for two months and that a van with four car-child seats was parked in the driveway that officers crept by the night of the raid, said Mawuli Mel Davis.

“We believe they were criminally negligent because of the children,” Mawuli Mel Davis said.“This isn’t police work. This is cowboys.”

Davis and others held a midday vigil for the child, Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh, outside Grady Memorial Hospital Monday. Worsening health postponed surgery to repair the deep chest wound caused when a flash-bang grenade landed on thew child’s pillow in the play-pen where he was sleeping. He also suffered severe burns on his head and face.

“Right now the focus is prayers for the child,” Davis said. “His fevers have been spiking. He is not out of the woods yet.”

The grenade was tossed into the house when a SWAT unit from the Habersham County sheriff office and the Corneila police department conducted the surprise raid serving a no-knock search warrant. ” Bou Bou’s” father, mother and three older sisters were also sleeping in the room but were uninjured.

The warrant contended that an undercover agent had purchased methamphetamine at the house the day before and officials justified the no-knock warrant on the grounds that the drug dealer was dangerous and possessed firearms.

Raiders found no drugs, gun or cash — nor the suspected drug dealer — at the house but did find the Phonesavanh family who was visiting from Wisconsin after their house had burned.

The suspected drug dealer, 30-year-old Wanis Thonetheva, was arrested later and was in possession of about an ounce of methamphetamine, Terrell said.

At the time Thonetheva was of jail on a $15,000 bond on an unrelated-drug arrest. He is currently charged with possession of methamphetamine, according to the Habersham County jail website.

Bou Bou is in a medically induced coma in the Grady Memorial Hospital burn unit and breathing on a ventilator because a lung has stopped working, said his mother, Alecia Phonesavanh

Doctors said he had a 50 percent chance of survival, family members said.

Phonesavanh said she and her family had moved to live with her sister-in-law in April after they suffered a fire in Wisconsin.

But they decided it wasn’t a good environment and had reserved a U-Haul for last Thursday to return to Wisconsin.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.