The parents of a baby injured by a flash-bang grenade during a no-knock multi-agency task force raid in Georgia, will be awarded $3.6 million after a federal judge’s decision on Friday.
19-month-old Bounkham Phonesavah (Baby Bou Bou) spent weeks in a burn unit after deputies with a Cornelia Police Department SWAT team threw a flash bang grenade directly into his crib, which exploded in his face, leaving him permanently disfigured.
The raid was conducted at around 3:00 am for a drug suspect that wasn’t even in the house. By happen-stance, the Phonesavanh family was staying at the residence with relatives because their home in Wisconsin had just burned down.
“[The grenade] landed in his playpen and exploded on his pillow right in his face,” Bou Bou’s mother, Alecia Phonesavanh said at the time. “He’s only a baby. He didn’t deserve any of this.”
Following the raid, the child was rushed to the Grady Memorial Hospital where he was put into a medically induced coma. In the wake of the incident, Habersham County attorneys said that “the board of commissioners concluded that it would be in violation of the law” to pay for Bou Bou’s medical bills.
The Phonesavah family has since settled multiple lawsuits against the assorted departments involved in the raid however. A settlement was reached earlier this month with the City of Cornelia for $1 million, and in April, an agreement for $964,000 was arrived at with Habersham County.
On Friday, a federal judge approved payments totaling $1.65 million by Rabun and Stephens Counties – bringing the entire amount awarded to the family to around $3.6 million.
“We have worked diligently with our co-counsel to obtain the best possible result for Baby Bou Bou and his family,” Attorney Mawuli Davis said. “What we achieved will not fix what happened or take away the nightmares, but we hope it helps them move forward as a family.”
The only officer that faced any charges as a result of the incident was twenty-nine-year-old Nikki Autry – a special agent of the Mountain Judicial Circuit Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team (NCIS).
She was indicted by a federal grand jury in July for providing false information in a search warrant affidavit and providing the same false information to obtain an arrest warrant that ultimately led to the raid.
Prosecutors had said that Autry knew the informant she relied on wasn’t a reliable source and didn’t buy drugs from anyone inside the house, but gave the affidavit to the judge anyway who issued the no-knock warrant.
Autry was charged with four counts of civil rights violations for willfully depriving the occupants of the residence of their right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by an officer and “knowingly depriving [the] right to be free from arrest without probable cause.”
Although her actions directly led to Fourth Amendment violations that resulted in Bou Bou’s injuries, the grand jury declined to hold Autry responsible in December after her attorneys argued that she became the scapegoat for other officers’ errors in the case.
Prosecutors didn’t agree, but said they respected the jury’s decision.
“If there had never been a search warrant Bou Bou would’ve never been injured,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill McKinnon said at the time. “There’s a direct causation.”
Baby Bou Bou is still recovering from his injuries, has difficulty swallowing, and requires additional surgeries, according to Attorney Davis.
“He’s got a painful road ahead,” Davis said. “The whole family, they still struggle with the trauma of what they went through, and every medical procedure is a reminder.”