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Family Faces $1M In Medical Bills After Their Toddler Was Severely Injured in SWAT Raid

No officers faced charges for the no-knock raid, which sought a suspect who did not live at the address, and left an 18-month-old badly burned and with a collapsed lung.
December 19, 2014, 9:58pm
Photo by David Goldman/AP

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A family whose child was severely injured when a flash-bang grenade was thrown at their 18-month-old toddler during a SWAT raid is now facing $1 million in medical costs that the local county has refused to help pay.

In the early hours of May 28, a SWAT team in Cornelia, Georgia stormed into the family home of the mother of Wanis Thonetheva, who was believed to be dealing methamphetamine.

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The suspect's uncle, his four children, and his wife were staying there in close quarters, having lost their Wisconsin home to a fire earlier that year. The cops entered the house with a "no-knock" warrant, and an officer threw a flash-bang grenade, which landed in the pack-and-play crib where 18-month-old Bounkham 'Bou Bou' Phonesavanh lay.

According to an ABC News report, the child was severely burned on his face and torso, and his left lung collapsed. For five months, Bounkham remained in a chemically induced coma. Now, his parents reportedly face $1 million in medical bills, which Habersham County Officials have said they will not cover. No charges were brought against any of the Habersham County police who carried the raid.

Habersham County Judge James Butterworth, who signed the "no-knock" warrant, announced his retirement within days of the raid. A federal investigation into the incident is ongoing. According to ABC News, under state law it would be illegal for the county to cover the family's medical costs because the county government's sovereign immunity from negligence claims against it. The payment would be an illegal "gratuity" to the family.

The toddler was whisked away from the raid by police and taken to the hospital, while his parents were reportedly questioned for two hours. His mother, Alecia, told ABC News that police misled her at the scene, claiming the child was only lightly injured. She did not learn of the severity of his situation until she arrived at hospital hours later.

"Why couldn't [the police] just be honest with us and tell us what happened?" she asked.

The intended suspect, Thonetheva, was arrested hours after the raid, without the use of a SWAT team. He pleaded guilty to selling methamphetamine and is serving a 10-year sentence in a Georgia prison.