GAINESVILLE, Ga. (AP) — Jurors on Friday found a former Georgia sheriff's deputy not guilty of charges stemming from her role in setting up a "no-knock" drug raid that severely injured a toddler when a flash grenade detonated in his playpen.
Nikki Autry was accused of providing false information to obtain a no-knock warrant for the raid.
Deputies serving the warrant in May 2014 tossed a flash bang device into the home where they thought a drug dealer was staying. The device landed in the playpen of 19-month-old Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh, leaving him with severe injuries to his face and chest.
Autry's attorney Jeff Brickman told WSB-TV on live television shortly after the verdict that they feel terrible about what happened to the toddler but that Autry did nothing wrong.
"Ecstatic. Absolutely ecstatic," Brickman said when asked for his reaction as he left the courthouse. "We are so proud of Nikki for standing up for what she believed in."
Autry said she is happy the truth is out, that she never meant for Bou Bou to be hurt.
The toddler's parents, Alecia and Bounkham Phonesavanh, were at their lawyer's office in Decatur when they got the news of the verdict. They reacted angrily.
"I cannot believe this. How can we justify this? We didn't do nothing. We were sleeping," Bounkham Phonesavanh said.
U.S. Attorney John Horn said, "This was a tragic case, and a case that needed to be brought and presented to the jury. We are obviously disappointed, but we accept the jury's decision."
A Habersham County grand jury in October 2014 found that the investigation that led to the raid was "hurried" and "sloppy," but recommended no criminal charges be brought against the officers involved.
Federal prosecutors had said Autry, a 10-year department veteran, knew the informant she relied on didn't buy drugs from anyone inside the house, that the informant wasn't a proven reliable source and Autry didn't confirm there was heavy traffic coming and going at the house before she gave the affidavit to the judge who issued the "no-knock" warrant, which was executed roughly two hours later.
The Phonesavanh family was staying with relatives temporarily at the time of the raid because their home in Wisconsin had recently burned down.
The suspected drug dealer whom authorities had been looking for was not in the house but was arrested at a nearby home afterward.
Magistrate Judge James Butterworth testified during the trial that he wouldn't have authorized the warrant if he had known the real details of the case.
"If there had never been a search warrant Bou Bou would've never been injured," Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill McKinnon said in his closing argument, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "There's a direct causation."
Defense attorneys argued Autry's supervisors turned a well-respected and dedicated officer into a scapegoat.
"There's a pattern of excess in the ways search warrants are executed," defense attorney Michael Trost said in his closing argument. "That's what led to the injuries to this child."
Autry was the only law enforcement officer charged in the raid.
The Phonesavanhs reached a $964,000 settlement with the Habersham County Board of commissioners and still have lawsuits pending against other counties in the multi-agency task force involved in the raid, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
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