A 19-month-old boy was seriously injured when police threw a stun grenade inside a northern Georgia home, where it landed in the toddler’s crib and exploded in his face, local media reported Friday.
The toddler and his family were staying in the house temporarily, local news reported. Police said they were unaware the family was there when the raid took place Wednesday.
“It landed in his playpen and exploded on his pillow right in his face,” the boy’s mother, Alecia Phonesavanh, told Atlanta’s Channel 2 news.
A so-called no-knock warrant gives law enforcement officers the right to enter a citizen’s home without identifying themselves or knocking first. Stun grenades, often deployed in such raids, are used to temporarily blind, deafen and disorient suspects.
Critics have blamed what they see as the increasing “militarization” of police forces and the growing use of SWAT teams — even for nonviolent drug suspects — for the dozens of documented cases (PDF) of innocent bystanders being hurt or killed in SWAT operations.
In the latest incident, Georgia police said that they had bought drugs at the house earlier, and that a multijurisdictional drug unit had then issued a warrant and organized the SWAT operation for 3 a.m., Cornelia police Chief Rick Darby told local reporters.
They arrested Wanis Thometheva, 30, during the raid.
“There was no clothes, no toys, nothing to indicate that there was children present in the home. If there had been, then we’d have done something different,” Darby told Channel 2. The Habersham police department, tasked with investigating the incident, had not responded to Al Jazeera's request for comment at the time of publication.
“You’re trying to minimize anything that could go wrong, and in this case the greatest thing went wrong,” Darby said. “Is it going to make us more careful in the next one? Yes, ma’am, it is. It’s going to make us double question.”
Phonesavanh said her son was being treated in the Grady Memorial Hospital burn unit and was in a medically induced coma, local media reported.
“We go up to see him, and his whole face is ripped open. He has a big cut on his chest,” Phonesavanh told Channel 2. “He’s only 19 months old. He didn’t do anything.”
It is unclear whether the police department will cover the medical expenses. The Phonesavanh family said they have no insurance and have set up a fund to help pay, local media reported.
The use of SWAT teams accelerated from about 3,000 times per year in 1980 to about 40,000 times by 2005, according to Radley Balko, who published a paper (PDF) titled “Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America” for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C.
At least 40 innocent bystanders and 20 nonviolent offenders have been killed as a result of botched SWAT raids since 1995, Balko said, adding that he had documented almost 300 problematic raids during that period.
“These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty only of misdemeanors,” Balko said. “The raids terrorize innocents … and they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders and innocent suspects.”