The case agent who allegedly provided false information to a Habersham County SWAT team that maimed a toddler has been charged with federal civil rights violations.
Attorney Mawuli Davis, who represents the parents of Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh, the 19-month-old who sustained severe injuries to his face and chest, along with possible brain damage, after a stun grenade deployed during the May 2014 raid landed in his playpen, confirmed the charges to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Habersham deputy sheriff Nikki Autry, working with the multi-agency Mountain Judicial Circuit Narcotics Criminal and Suppression Team, was indicted on four counts of criminal civil rights violations, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“Without her false statements, there was no probable cause to search the premises for drugs or to make the arrest,” acting U.S. Attorney John Horn said Wednesday. “And in this case, the consequences of the unlawful search were tragic.”
Autry was accused of using an unreliable informant who purchased a small amount of methamphetamine, though not at the residence where the raid was conducted.
The indictment alleges that Autry had not confirmed there was heavy traffic in and out of the residence, as stated in a warrant application supplied to a magistrate judge. Based on that information, a “no-knock” search warrant for the residence and an arrest warrant for Wanis Thonetheva., who allegedly sold the methamphetamine, was obtained.
The raid was executed two hours earlier. Thonetheva was arrested later that day at his residence, without incident. He was arrested again in April on separate charges.
Autry was forced to resign. What motivated her to allegedly lie remains unclear.
Lawyers for the sheriff and the other officers denied that “false and misleading information was used in the search warrant application” even after a Habersham grand jury found that to be the case.
No one was charged by the grand jury, which still criticized the raid, calling it “hurried and sloppy.”
Federal prosecutors launched their investigation last October.
In April, Habersham County Commission Chairwoman Andrea Harper announced the county had settled with the family for $964,000.
“Over the last few months the Board of County Commissioners has sought a way to bring some measure of closure to this matter while doing what is right, both for the Phonesavanh family and the law enforcement officers involved,” Harper said. “For that reason we have reached a limited settlement with the Phonesavanhs that allows for a payment to them in exchange for protection of the officers and the county.”
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