CORNELIA, Ga. -- A toddler caught in the middle of a drug raid was seriously injured when a police flash grenade exploded in his playpen.
The 19-month-old child is now in Grady Hospital's burn unit in Atlanta. The raid in which he was injured was at a house just north of Cornelia, in Habersham County, early Wednesday morning.
Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell, who described the device in various ways -- a "stun grenade" and "flash grenade" and "flash bang" -- said there was no indication that a family with four children were guests in the suspected drug dealer's house when his team went in and threw that flash grenade to try to arrest the suspect.
Terrell said his team made an undercover drug buy at the house just a few hours before the raid.
When sheriff's deputies and Cornelia police officers, who make up the Special Response team, obtained a no-knock warrant and tried to go into the drug suspect's house just after midnight Wednesday, something was blocking the door from the inside. Terrell said they didn't know it was the playpen of the 19-month-old child, and that the boy was in the playpen sleeping.
"There was an obstruction, they inserted a flash bang, they had to push the door open. When they entered the door, they noticed it was a playpen, or like a pack-and-play type device," Terrell said. "There was a young child in the pack-and-play."
The flash grenade had exploded next to the child, Bou Phonesavanh. He suffered serious burns. Family friends have sent up a gofundme site to raise money for his medical expenses.
One of the residents of the home told 11Alive that the crib was seven feet away from the door, and not propped against it.
The sheriff did arrest the suspect, Wanis Thomethera, 30, along with three others. He said his deputies interviewed the parents, who told them that the suspect is a relative, and that the family only recently moved in with him because their house in Wisconsin burned.
"They [told us they] knew that the homeowner's son was selling meth, so they kept the children out of sight in a different room while any of these going-ons were happening," Terrell said. "So when [our confidential informants] did go up and buy drugs at the house, they didn't see any evidence of children in the home."
Thromethera has nine previous arrests, include drug and weapons charges.
Terrell said his office is keeping in contact with the boy's mother, who is with her son at Grady Memorial Hospital. The sheriff says he and all the law officers who were part of this raid are heartbroken, but he says he doesn't know what they could have done differently.
"The information we had from our confidential informant was there was no children in the home. We always ask; that determines how we enter the house and the things we do.... Did we go by our training, did we go by the intelligence? Given the same set of circumstances, with the same information dealing with a subject who has known gun charges on him, who is selling meth, they [the deputies and officers] would go through the same procedures... Nothing would change.... Had no way of knowing the child was in the house. The little baby was in there, didn't deserve this. These drug dealers don't care."
Terrell said that he has turned in evidence over the district attorney, who could call for a grand jury or the GBI to investigate.