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No charges for SWAT team who disfigured toddler in botched raid

"It’s time to remind the cops that they should be serving and protecting our neighborhoods, not waging war on the people in them," victim's mother says.

By JC Sevcik

HABERSHAM, Ga., Oct. 8 (UPI) -- A Georgia grand jury decided not to file criminal charges against the officers of the Habersham SWAT team who disfigured a toddler during a botched drug raid in May.

The SWAT team, executing a no-knock warrant on the home, told by an informant to expect armed guards and cache of weapons, tossed a flash-bang stun grenade into the home.

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The grenade landed inside a playpen where a baby was sleeping.

Nineteen-month-old Bounkham Phonesavanh, affectionately known to his family as "Baby Bou Bou," lost his nose and left nipple, sustained burns to his face and body, and suffered a collapsed lung and brain injuries.

Bounkham spent five weeks in a medically induced coma, undergoing several surgeries to repair the damage to his face.

Habersham police were searching for a relative who did not live in the house, who was not there at the time, and who was taken into custody without incident later in the day and charged only with possession of methamphetamines. They found no drugs or weapons inside the home and later admitted to being unaware there were children inside the residence.

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Bounkham and his family were staying with relatives after their Wisconsin home recently burned down.

Having already racked up over $800,000 in bills, Bounkham still faces additional procedures.

Initially, the city of Habersham publicly vowed to cover the child's medical expenses, but last month recanted on the promise.

"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," said the attorney for Habersham County.

The 23-person Habersham County grand jury heard evidence for six days before announcing Monday the officers involved in the incident would be cleared of any wrongdoing.

"We are reviewing the grand jury findings with our client. They are devastated and trying to comprehend the gravity of this decision," Phonesavanh family attorney Mawuli Davis said. "This is a very sad day for this family and for the people of Georgia."

Baby Bou Bou's mother said the family was "devastated" by the decision.

"This is happening every day to people [who are] being relentlessly and unnecessarily militarized by police who think just because they're supposed to be upholding the law, they are above the law themselves," Phonesavanh said.

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"It's time to remind the cops that they should be serving and protecting our neighborhoods, not waging war on the people in them," she said.

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