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Former Habersham County deputy acquitted in flash-bang case

The only officer charged in the botched drug raid that maimed a toddler in Habersham County last year was acquitted of civil rights charges Friday evening by a federal court jury in Gainesville.

Nikki Autry, 29, was accused of providing false information on an affidavit to secure a no-knock warrant for a suspected drug dealer. Based in part on that intelligence, Habersham’s SWAT unit used a flash-bang device meant to disorient their target. But the stun grenade landed in the playpen of 19-month-old Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh, resulting in severe injuries to the toddler’s face and chest.

The suspected drug dealer was not found at the residence the officers raided.

Autry’s attorneys argued Friday that prosecutors picked the wrong scapegoat.

“There’s a pattern of excess in the ways search warrants are executed,” defense co-counsel Michael Trost said in his closing argument. “That’s what led to the injuries to this child.”

Prosecutors argued the fault lies with Autry, calling her an overzealous officer who exhibited “no respect for the people she was investigating.”

“If there had never been a search warrant Bou Bou would’ve never been injured,” said U.S. Attorney Bill McKinnon. “There’s a direct causation.”

Autry was charged with three counts of violating the civil rights of Bou Bou, his parents and siblings. Federal prosecutors had to prove that Autry acted willfully or with reckless disregard by hyping the intelligence in support of the no-knock warrant.

Magistrate Judge James Butterworth testifed this week that, had the case been presented to him as he now knows it to be, he wouldn’t have authorized the warrant.