We Didn't Know Isn't Good Enough

By Jessica Burtch

June 3, 2014 4 min read

I wouldn't want to be the cop who tossed the flash grenade into the sleeping baby's crib.

I wouldn't want to be the undercover agent who failed to notice any sign of the four small children living in the Georgia home that would be raided on the night of May 28.

I wouldn't want to be the officer who made the decision to prioritize the risk of detection over the value of surveillance, surveillance that would have revealed children playing in the front yard day after day and a minivan full of car seats parked in the driveway, surveillance that surely could've linked the presence of children's toys and shoes to the presence of actual children.

I wouldn't want to be the judge who signed the no-knock warrant that green-lighted the raid that went so horribly, terribly, awfully wrong.

I wouldn't want to be the sheriff juggling death threats from an outraged public and questions from hungry reporters when the only defense he seems to have to offer is: We didn't know.

We didn't know isn't good enough.

These soldiers in the war on drugs led with their grenade, and it landed on a sleeping baby's pillow and tore open his face and chest.

One-year-old Bou Bou Phonesavanh is in a medically induced coma with a 50/50 chance of survival. Burns cover his face and head. One lung has collapsed. He requires a ventilator to breathe. His fevers are high and frequent.

Police eventually caught the "armed and dangerous" subject of their "no-knock" warrant — unarmed, at a different location and in possession of less than an ounce of meth. The raid that left a baby on life support yielded no weapons, no cash, no drugs, no drug dealer.

"We obviously would have done things different," Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell said. "We might have gone in through a side door. ... We would not have used a flash bang." If only they'd had some way of knowing about the children.

I never would've driven 85 in a 65 if I'd had some way of knowing about the speed limit, officer. There was a sign, you say? Well, had I seen it, I would have done things different.

That defense doesn't hold water for civilians. You didn't know? I see. License and registration, please. And it shouldn't fly for law enforcement, either.

Didn't know doesn't do Bou Bou any good. He could not be a more innocent victim: 19 months old, asleep in his portable playpen, his head on his pillow, which is exactly where the flash grenade landed at 3 a.m.

Under these circumstances, shouldn't we assume there are children present and work from there? Isn't there a responsibility on the part of the police of all people to err on the side of safety? Protect and serve and all that.

"There's nothing to investigate," said Terrell when initially questioned about police tactics and procedure that night. When a baby loses his face, a lung and possibly his life in a drug raid that yields no drugs, no weapons and no drug dealer, there's everything to investigate.

Even if this raid had yielded a floor-to-ceiling stash of psychotropics, there would be everything to investigate. "There's nothing to investigate" is what you whisper to yourself in the dead of night when you can't sleep because you know how awful this is, this thing you set in motion, this futile chase, this violence against the innocent in pursuit of those whose nasty habits don't sit well with you. There's nothing to investigate. We did everything by the book.

Has there ever been anything so destructive as this war on drugs?

"All I can say is pray for the baby, his family and for us," Terrell told CNN. Yes, please do, and in that order.

Follow Jessica on Twitter @sicaleigh. To find out more about Jessica Leigh, and to read features by other Creators writers and comics, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.

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