When 20-month-old Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh was hospitalized nearly five weeks ago following a botched drug raid in Habersham County, the toddler’s parents say they were told he had merely chipped a tooth.
“The officer’s exact words to us were that we were going to be able to pick up our son,” Bou Bou’s mother, Alecia Phonesavanh, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
On Tuesday, nearly five weeks after the raid that netted no drugs or arrests, Alecia and Bounkham Phonesavanh finally got to bring their son home. But Bou Bou, who sustained a brain injury and collapsed lung when a “flash bang” grenade went off in his playpen, still faces a long recovery.
“He needs to learn to walk again,” his mother said. There was significant scarring to his face — doctors had to re-attach his nose — and additional plastic surgery awaits.
But for a family that’s had little to be thankful for this year, Bou Bou’s recovery qualifies as an unexpected blessing.
“It’s a miracle,” the boy’s father, Bounkham Phonesavanh, said. “We want to thank everyone for their prayers.”
On Monday, Bou Bou had his first meal with his family since the May 28 raid. The Phonesavanhs plan to return to Wisconsin — where they lived before relocating to Cornelia due to a house fire earlier this year — following a farewell breakfast Wednesday with supporters at Delightful Eatz in southeast Atlanta.
Meanwhile, the GBI’s investigation into the actions of a special response unit, composed of Habersham sheriff’s deputies and Cornelia police officers, that conducted the raid is nearing completion, the family’s attorney, Mawuli Davis, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The unit 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 home where the Phonesavanhs were staying. Thonetheva was arrested without incident at a different location the following day.
“He did not live [where the family was staying],” Alecia Phonesavanh said, adding she spotted Thonetheva at the end of the driveway the day the alleged undercover purchase of $50 worth of methamphetamine was made.
The raid was conducted early the next day. Bou Bou, his parents and three siblings were all asleep when they heard commotion outside the door.
“I thought it was a robbery,” Alecia Phonesavanh said. “When I sat up in bed I saw the flash.”
The 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 response team said they were unaware children were inside the home even though a minivan equipped with children’s car seats was parked in the driveway.
The Habersham raid has renewed debate over the use of “no-knock warrants,” in which law enforcement can enter a home unannounced.
“We’re concerned about our neighborhoods and communities being treated as war zones by the police,” Davis said.
Habersham officials have declined comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
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