ATLANTA (AP) — A former Georgia deputy sheriff was indicted Wednesday on federal charges for her role in setting up a “no-knock” drug raid that severely injured a toddler when a flash grenade detonated in his playpen.
Former Habersham County Deputy Nikki Autry, 29, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of providing false information in a search warrant affidavit, Acting U.S. Attorney John Horn said. Autry also is charged with providing false information to obtain an arrest warrant.
During the raid on the northeast Georgia home in May 2014, a flash grenade detonated in 19-month-old Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh’s playpen, blowing his chest and face open and burning him.
The Phonesavanh family was staying with relatives temporarily at the time of the raid because their home in Wisconsin had recently burned down.
A Habersham County grand jury in October found that the investigation that led to the raid was “hurried” and “sloppy,” but recommended no criminal charges be brought against the officers involved.
Prosecutors said Autry, a 10-year department veteran, gave an affidavit to a Habersham County magistrate judge saying a reliable informant bought drugs from someone standing outside the home the Phonesavanhs were staying in. In the affidavit, Autry told the judge the informant had provided information in the past that led to criminal charges, investigators said.
Prosecutors said the informant was actually “brand new” and it was not him but his roommate — who was not working with the task force that executed the raid — who allegedly bought a small amount of meth, but there was no surveillance to verify the purchase.
Investigators said Autry knew the informant didn’t buy drugs from anyone inside the house, the new informant wasn’t a proven reliable source, and Autry didn’t confirm there was heavy traffic coming and going from the house before she gave the affidavit to the judge who issued the “no-knock” warrant, which was executed roughly two hours later.
Prosecutors said the judge issued the warrant based on false information Autry is accused of providing. The flash bang grenade a deputy sheriff tossed into the house through a side door landed in the baby’s playpen, critically injuring him.
The suspected drug dealer whom authorities had been looking for was not in the house but was arrested at a nearby home afterward.
The toddler’s parents, Alecia and Bounkham Phonesavanh, in February filed a lawsuit in federal court in Gainesville seeking damages from Sheriff Joey Terrell and members of the task force that was involved in the raid.
The lawsuit asks for a jury trial and seeks damages, including for physical injuries, emotional pain and suffering, medical bills and alleged violations of their constitutional and civil rights. It also seeks attorney fees and punitive damages.