State and federal agencies continue to probe the details of an undercover drug raid last month after a young boy was critically injured in the process.
Bounkham Bou Bou Phonesavanh, 20-month-old son of Alecia and Bounkahm Phonesavanh of Janesville, Wis., received burns and lacerations to his face and chest after a flash-bang device landed, then detonated in his Pack n Play-type crib.
The device was deployed May 27 by Habersham County, Cornelia SRT (Special Response Team) personnel, assisting the Mountain Judicial Circuit NCIS (Narcotics Criminal Investigation and Suppression) Team, during attempts to secure a house late May 28, after surveilling 182 Lakeview Heights Circle in Cornelia.
The flash bang, a non-lethal explosive device, is designed to disorient an individual with blinding light and deafening sounds. Temperatures associated with its deployment can reach 3,000 degrees.
Bou Bou Phonesavanh was injured just after 2 a.m., when authorities entered in search of Wanis Thonetheva, 30, of Cornelia, after he was observed allegedly dealing drugs from the same door the toddlers bed had been placed against.
Investigators were issued a no-knock warrant, signed by Chief Magistrate James Butterworth, to secure the residence.
House Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonvile) eight months ago began looking into how no-knock warrants are carried out by law enforcement. Legislation aimed at tightening up no-knock procedures may be forthcoming.
Whatever legislation I come up with, I would work with those law enforcement professionals to ensure they support those efforts, Tanner said. The goal is to make it safer for everyone involved, and give law enforcement the tools they need. Im not looking to take away any options, just tightening up the procedures.
Tanner spent 18 years in law enforcement in Dawson County. During his tenure, he took the lead on executing more than 100 search warrants and approximately 24 no-knock warrants.
No-knock warrants are issued for two reasons: when a judge determines there is a likelihood that evidence may be destroyed or to protect officers safety, Tanner said.
I was trained on flash-bang but never deployed one, he said.
The Dawson County Sheriffs Office is a state certified law enforcement agency the seventh in the state to receive certification out of 159 agencies. As such, it is required by law to have written polices and procedures for no-knock warrants and the deployment of flash-bang devices.
It is imperative that agencies have written policies, properly trained personnel, and documentation on procedures, Tanner said. A judge can place limits on the time of day a no-knock is executed. In the federal system, it cant be executed between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Momentum has been building, he said, in other states and Georgia for policy changes regarding no-knock warrants and flash-bang devices.
I have concern that people outside of law enforcement may be trying to make changes, Tanner said. Executing search warrants creates a very dangerous situation for law enforcement and for the public. Officers put their lives on the line every day, and whatever decisions are made in Atlanta, I want to make sure its done with the cooperation of law enforcement. We dont need to make knee-jerk reactions.
Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Brian Rickman confirmed Monday the investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation remains ongoing, and is anticipated to wrap within a total time of 30 days, or the first week of July.
I think 30 days is realistic, Rickman said. [The investigation] is progressing well from the updates Ive received. The GBI, with coordination and assistance from the FBI, are gathering evidence and conducting interviews. Its moving well.
The FBI is conducting a simultaneous investigation with the GBI, Rickman said, the understanding being both agencies are working together.
Quite literally, every investigative agency and every prosecutor that would have any legal right to review the circumstances and make determinations is involved, he said. GBI, FBI, the U.S. Attorney, DAs office I have every reason to believe it is being and will get a very thorough look.
Dawson News & Advertiser Editor/Publisher Kimberly Boim contributed to this report.