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County officials refuse to pay medical bills for toddler burned by SWAT grenade

Published time: August 18, 2014 15:33
AFP Photo / Getty Images / Spencer Platt

AFP Photo / Getty Images / Spencer Platt

Officials in Georgia’s Habersham County are refusing to pay for the mounting medical expenses of a toddler seriously injured by a flash grenade after a failed SWAT team raid earlier this year.

Bounkham 'Bou Bou' Phonesavanh was just 19 months old when a Habersham SWAT team initiated a no-knock warrant at his family’s home at around 3 a.m. on May 28. Bou Bou was asleep in his crib at the time, surrounded by his family and three sisters. The toddler was severely injured when SWAT team officers broke through the house’s door and threw a flashbang grenade that ultimately landed in the Bou Bou’s crib.

When the stun grenade went off, it caused severe burns on the child and opened a gash in his chest. As a result, Bou Bou lost the ability to breathe on his own and was left in a medically induced coma for days after the incident. His extensive recovery necessitated stays in two hospitals before he finally went home in July.

Now, Habersham County officials are sticking by their decision to ignore the family’s plight, the family’s attorney, Muwali Davis, told WSB-TV.

Habersham County’s attorney responded with a statement saying that the Board of County Commissioners will not pay given it is supposedly illegal to do so.

"The question before the board was whether it is legally permitted to pay these expenses. After consideration of this question following advice of counsel, the board of commissioners has concluded that it would be in violation of the law for it to do so."

The family now says an independent investigation showed law enforcement used suspect information to attain a search warrant.

As RT reported previously, the SWAT conducted the raid as part of an effort to apprehend Wanis Thometheva, believed to be selling methamphetamine. Police said that their records indicated the suspect could be armed, and that a confidential informant had successfully purchased drugs from him earlier in the day. At the time of the raid, however, Thometheva was not at the home, and was eventually arrested elsewhere.

Additionally, an unnamed public official told the Washington Post that the reported drug deal was worth only $50.

Habersham County's sheriff previously said the confidential informant who bought drugs at the home told police that he did not believe any children lived at the house.

Bou Bou’s mother, Alecia Phonesavanh, said that was unlikely if they had valid information on their suspect.

“If they had an informant in that house, they knew there were kids,” Phonesavanh told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the incident. “They say there were no toys. There is plenty of stuff. Their shoes were laying all over.”

In June, the family called for a federal investigation into the conduct of the SWAT team.

The Phonesavanh family said it was not involved with drugs at all, and was only staying with Thometheva, the homeowner’s son, because their Wisconsin home was damaged in a fire. They moved back to Wisconsin once Bou Bou’s health improved. Supporters have planned a fundraiser this month for the family.

An official investigation into the incident is ongoing, according to WSB-TV.

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