Parents of toddler badly burned during botched drug raid meet with GBI

When Bounkham and Alecia Phonesavanh first noticed their 19-month-old son’s blood-soaked playpen following a botched drug raid at a relative’s home in Cornelia, they say they were told by officers it was the result of a lost tooth.

Bounkham Phonesavanh said Tuesday he was threatened with arrest by members of the Habersham County Special Response Team when he pressed deputies about his son’s agonizing screams. Neither parent was allowed to accompany “Bou Bou” to Grady Memorial Hospital, said the couple’s lawyer, Mawuli Mel Davis, and they weren’t apprised of the severity of his injuries until arriving at the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Bou Bou, who sustained a deep chest wound and severe facial burns when a stun grenade - or flash bang device - lobbed into the house landed in his playpen by mistake, has been kept in a medically induced coma for nearly two weeks, his prognosis uncertain.

He remains in critical condition, his mother said.

On Tuesday, Bou Bou’s parents met with agents from the GBI and FBI investigating the actions of the response team that conducted the raid two weeks ago. The unit, composed of Habersham sheriff’s deputies and Cornelia police officers, was acting on a tip from an undercover agent with the Mountain Judicial Circuit Narcotics Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team who said she bought methamphetamine from suspect Wanis Thonetheva at the residence the day before.

Habersham County Attorney Donald Hunt, who is handling all inquires relating to the raid, did not respond to a request for comment.

The critical decision to use the flash bang device was made prior to the raid “due to the violent history of Wanis Thonetheva and the stated possibility of weapons on scene,” one of the deputies wrote in the incident report obtained from the Habersham sheriff’s office. The agent had advised the response team to expect two guards to be stationed on the outside of the home and several adults — and no children — inside.

“On initial glance into the room, the lights were off and there was nothing immediately visible in the entry way,” wrote the deputy tossed the stun grenade “three to four feet inside the doorway.”

Davis said the deputy should’ve been able to see inside the room — where Bou Bou, his parents and three sisters were sleeping — because a television set had been left on.

There was also evidence of children in the house, including a minivan parked in the driveway with four child seats. In the incident report deputies acknowledged seeing the minivan as they approached the residence.

The response team found no drugs or weapons inside the home. Thonetheva hadn’t even lived at the house, owned by his mother, the sister of Bounkham Phonesavanh, for two months, Davis said.

That’s around the time the Phonesavanhs moved in, after their home in Wisconsin was destroyed by fire. They were planning to move out within the next day or two, their attorney said.

“We love our children and would never put them in harm’s way by involving ourselves in drugs,” Alecia Phonesavanh said.

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