Feds eye officers in botched drug raid, but challenges remain

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday indicated they were disappointed criminal charges were not brought against any of the officers involved in the botched drug raid that left a toddler disfigured.

But remedying that decision won’t be easy for U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates, who faces a much higher threshold than that required on the state and local level.

“You have to show the person knowingly or willfully did what they did,” said former assistant U.S. Attorney Buddy Parker. “You’d essentially have to develop evidence that these were rogue cops at work.”

Proving gross negligence or reckless conduct is not enough, Parker said.

Nineteen-month-old Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh sustained severe injuries to his face and chest, along with possible brain damage, after a stun grenade deployed during the May raid landed in his playpen. A Habersham grand jury criticized the drug investigation, calling it “hurried and sloppy,” but ruled charges were unnecessary since three of the principal figures had either resigned or been demoted.

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Mawuli Davis, lawyer for Bou Bou’s parents, Bounkham and Alecia Phonesavanh, met with Yates Tuesday and emerged hopeful but realistic about the possibility federal civil rights violations would be brought against any of the officers.

“We were given no timetable, just reassurance that they are looking into it,” said Davis, adding she told him she was disappointed with the grand jury’s decision.

Robert Page, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney, declined comment.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned federal prosecutors are focusing on the case agent who had warned the SWAT team that executed the raid to expect armed guards, a cache of weapons and drugs in the home of a relative where the Phonesavanhs were staying. Deputies found neither guns, narcotics or the suspect, Wanis Thonetheva, who was arrested later the day without incident.

The case agent, whose name is being withheld due to death threats she has received, has since resigned.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, who attended Tuesday’s meeting with Yates, said the U.S. Attorney needs to send a message.

”If this office doesn’t [prosecute], it’s more likely something like this will happen again,” Fort said.

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