The police department maintains that they had no way of knowing a child was inside, that they followed all reasonable procedures, and that they are not responsible for paying the nearly $1 million in medical bills that have so far resulted from the infant's injuries, which include facial disfigurement.
Moreover, they actually claim the incident was the fault of the victim himself — a 19-month-old baby sleeping in a house where no drugs or weapons or criminal suspect were found.
— Dan Sanchez (@DanSanchezV) June 20, 2014
Baby Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh was burnt on his face and torso as a result of the blast, which also collapsed one of his lungs. He has also been diagnosed with brain shearing, though since he is young the extent of brain damage may take some time to assess. He will likely undergo plastic surgery procedures every couple of years until he is 20.
In their response to the Phonesavanh's federal lawsuit, the police assert that "plaintiffs' injuries and damages, if any, were caused by the deliberate, criminal conduct of plaintiffs, and such criminal conduct supersedes any and all negligence or liability, if any, on the part of these defendants."
The federal lawsuit against the officers was brought after a state grand jury declined to indict any of the officers involved in October 2014. Though the police have staunchly denied any responsibility, in April the family was finally awarded $964,000 by the county.
"Bad Intelligence" Led Police to House
In May 2014, the Habersham County SWAT team carried out a "no-knock" raid on a residence where little 19-month-old Bou Bou was sleeping in his crib. Parents Alecia and Bounkham Phonesavanh had brought their four children to stay with Alecia's family after their house had been destroyed by fire.
— Marcus Coleman (@mc4justice) May 6, 2015
The police had obtained a warrant to enter the house because they thought that Thonetheva — Bounkham, the father's, nephew — lived there and he had allegedly sold $50 of methamphetamine to a confidential informant in the house's driveway.
The confidential informant had told police there were no children inside. Since Thonetheva had previous weapons charges, and could therefore reasonably be believed to be dangerous or armed, they were granted a "no-knock" warrant. The police had also received bad intelligence that there were armed men guarding the residence.
The grand jury, in their decision, also blamed the Phonesavanhs for putting their children at risk, asserting that "the evidence shows that the children were in danger from the moment they moved into the residence and the parents and extended family had some degree of knowledge concerning family members involved in criminal activity."
"There is evidence that [the Phonesavanh family] were aware of criminal activity and drug sales on the part of persons at the residence, and specifically Wanis Thonetheva," the decision reads.
Alecia Phonesavanh told ABC news that Thonetheva "had broken into [his mother's] room and stole some of her jewelry and stuff," adding, "we knew him as a thief."
Bounkham, Bou Bou’s father, also admitted he had a bad feeling about Thonetheva, but had already booked a moving van to take his family back to Wisconsin for the day following the raid, Buzzfeed News reported.
According to the police response, this amounts to "the contributory and comparative negligence of plaintiffs and their failure to exercise ordinary care."
— Change.org (@Change) March 12, 2015
"Was Obvious to Anyone" That Children Were Present
Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell told CNN, however, that if they had known of the presence of children they would have proceeded differently.
"We might have gone in through a side door," he said. "We would not have used a flash bang."
But the Phonesavanh's lawsuit asserts that, with four children residing inside, "evidence of the presence of children at the residence was obvious to anyone who went in or near the home," evidence that the police should have noted if they had, as they said, been observing the home for two days.
— E.B. Black (@writerblack) May 22, 2015
The family also questioned why — if Thonetheva was such a potential threat — the violent surprise entry into the house wasn't needed just a few hours later when Thonetheva was apprehended a few houses away with nothing more than a knock at the door.
"The subject of the warrant was apprehended at his original place of residence. He was apprehended by a knock on the door," family spokesman Marcus Coleman said at the press conference. "Why wasn’t he considered armed and dangerous at location B?"
Despite the multiple intelligence failures, and the ultimate discovery of no drugs, weapons or criminal suspects at the home, Terrell maintains that the officers involved are in no way at fault.
"The person I blame in this whole thing is the person selling the drugs," Terrell told Access North Georgia after the incident. "Wanis Thonetheva, that’s the person I blame in all this.They are no better than a domestic terrorist."