A former Georgia deputy sheriff who allegedly used false and unreliable information as the basis for a drug raid on a family’s house that resulted in the maiming of a toddler has been indicted on federal charges.
Acting U.S. Attorney John Horn announced Wednesday that Nikki Autry, a former Habersham County deputy sheriff and NCIS special agent, was indicted by a federal grand jury. The 29-year-old woman is facing charges of providing false information in a search warrant affidavit, providing the same false information to obtain an arrest warrant, and providing false evidence to a judge to obtain a warrant.
On May 28, 2014, SWAT police descended on the Phonesavanh family’s home in the town of Cornelia, Georgia. The officers were searching for a drug dealer they believed lived at the house and had obtained a “no-knock warrant” to seize the residence. When they busted down the door, an officer hurled a flash-bang grenade that exploded inside the crib of 19-month-old Bou Bou Phonesavanh.
Bou Bou’s nose and nipple were blown off in the blast. The toddler also suffered severe burns on his chest and face.
On the night of the raid, police were attempting to arrest Wanis Thonetheva, the nephew of Bou Bou’s father, on drug charges. Thonetheva was apprehended a few hours later at a house down the street without incident when the officers simply knocked on the door. When Thonetheva answered, he was taken into custody without a struggle.
Bou Bou spent more than a month in a Georgia hospital fighting for his life. The Phonesavanh family, meanwhile, was left with more than $1 million in medical expenses.
During the ensuing grand jury investigation in Habersham County, police claimed that the raid was justified based on information from a confidential informant who allegedly bought drugs at the residence, resulting in a search warrant being procured by Autry’s team.
The grand jury elected not to charge any of the police involved and cited the parents of Baby Bou Bou for endangering their child. The family appealed to the U.S. attorney, prompting the federal investigation.
According to the indictment, Autry, the architect of the raid, “knew the NCIS informant had not purchased any methamphetamine from anyone at the residence and the NCIS informant had not proven himself to be reliable in the past. Additionally, the indictment alleges that Autry had not confirmed that there was heavy traffic in and out of the residence.”
In total, Autry has been charged with four counts of civil rights violations — including violating the civil rights of Thonetheva for arresting him without probable cause.
Earlier this year, the Phonesavanh family settled a civil lawsuit with Habersham County and received nearly $1 million.
However, in an interview with BuzzFeed News, Bou Bou's mother Alecia Phonesavanh said the settlement money would not be enough to cover their baby’s still growing medical bills.
Read the indictment:
Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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