Parents of Toddler Burned by Police Grenade: ‘Never Saw Drugs’
Alecia and Bounkham Phonesavanh tell their side of what happened for the first time after a police grenade detonated in their toddler’s crib during a drug raid.
During the three-hour interview, Alecia Phonesevanh and Bounkham Phonesevanh said they wanted to set the record straight with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and FBI.
Two weeks ago, Bounkham, nicknamed “Bou Bou,” Phonesevanh was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital in critical condition, according to a previous Patch story. The grenade was meant to distract residents of the house suspected of selling drugs, but when it exploded on Bou Bou’s pillow, he was severely burned and remains in a medically induced coma.
The family was staying at Alecia Phonesevanh’s sister-in-law’s home in Habersham County, GA after their own family home in Wisconsin was lost in a fire.
“We want to make it clear to the world that we love our children and would never put them in harms way by involving ourselves with drugs,” Alecia Phonesevanh said, according to CBS 46. “I never saw any drugs or drug activity in that house.”
Alecia and Bounkham Phonesevanh are advocating for change to no-knock warrants, pushing for changes to how police handle them and criteria necessary for judges to give approval, according to CBS 46. The two will rally for support outside the old Habersham County Courthouse on June 14.
“Since that night I can still hear the explosions in my ears and our daughter still wakes up with nightmares,” Bounkham Phonesevanh said, according to CBS 46. “The officers who hurt our baby that night have shown no compassion.”
Police believed drugs such as methamphetamine were being sold from the home by Wanis Thometheva, 30, Bounkham Phonesevanh’s nephew. A team of SWAT officers with a no-knock warrant went into the house late at night to arrest Thometheva, Patch reported. Cornelia police Chief Rick Darby said officers had previously purchased drugs from Thometheva at the home.
According to The Atlanta Journal Constitution, investigators had previously discovered that Thometheva had weapons in the home, including an AK-47.
Chief Darby denied any knowledge or evidence of children in the home.
“There was no clothes, no toys, nothing to indicate that there was children present in the home,” Darby told WSB. “If there had been then we’d have done something different.”
Alecia Phonesevanh told AJC.com that the officers would have had to seen evidence of children in the house. Bou Bou has three older sisters ages 3, 5, and 7.
“There is plenty of stuff,” she said. “Their shoes were laying all over.”
Kara Dansky, senior counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Huffington Post that SWAT teams were created in the 1960s to handle hostage-taking cases and active shooters.
“We’re seeing increasingly that police are using SWAT teams to do raids of people’s homes often in low-level drug cases. This sometimes causes an escalated risk of violence as we saw in this case,” Dansky said. She admitted that tactics used by law enforcement are sometimes misused.
Bou Bou is still too weak to undergo the surgery necessary for his recovery, according to CBS 46.
“This experience has been the most difficult my family has ever had to go through,” said Alecia Phonesevanh. “The night that our son was tragically injured is a night that we’ll never forget.”
Family friend Holly Benton Wickersham of Janesville, WI, set up a GoFundMe site to raise money for the family. On the site, she wrote: “I’m trying to raise money for my friends Bou and Alecia for their baby who is in intensive care in Atlanta. He needs lots of surgeries and I wanna help raise money to help with bills and food and other things they may need.”
To date, about $31,000 has been donated; the goal is $100,000.