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Sheriff Sued for Grenade Thrown at Baby

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (CN) - Habersham County police tossed a "flashbang" grenade into an infant's crib during an unlawful search and it exploded next to the child's face, causing grave injuries, his parents claim.

Bounkham and Alecia Phonesavanh, parents of "Bou Bou," sued Habersham Sheriff Joey Terrell, sheriff's department employees and a City of Cornelia police officer in Federal Court.

Bou Bou's parents say a deputy sheriff obtained a "no-knock" search warrant shortly after midnight May 28, 2014, for a relative's home where the Phonesavanhs where staying because their house in Wisconsin burned down.

They claim the warrant was obtained using a misleading affidavit, and the alleged crime being investigated was a $50 drug sale.

The allegedly illegal search occurred around 2 a.m., when five adults and four children were sleeping in the house, the complaint says. Bounkam, Alecia and their four children, including 19-month-old Bou Bou, were sleeping in one room when the incident allegedly transpired.

"Bounkham 'Bou Bou' Phonesavanh was sleeping in a 'pack-n-play' playpen, when, without warning, the defendants breached a door to the residence in question and defendant Charles Long intentionally threw a flashbang stun grenade blindly into the room which landed in the 'pack-n-play' playpen. The grenade landed on the pillow and detonated directly next to the child's face," the complaint states. "The explosion of the flashbang stun grenade resulted in severe and permanent injuries to Bounkham 'Bou Bou' Phonesavanh."

Bou Bou suffered severe burns to his face and chest, his nose was separate from the bone and he lost 20 percent of his upper lip, the complaint says. The child's parents argue use of the grenade was uncalled for because everyone was sleeping and the officers were facing no danger.

The Phonesavanhs also claim in the lawsuit that it was obvious that children were inside the home.

"Located outside and within several feet of the breached door was the family van which contained four child seats and had figures affixed to the rear window indicating the presence of a family with children," the complaint says. "Scattered throughout the yard of the residence were children's toys, including a plastic child's pool."

Flashbang grenades, also known as Stun or flash grenades, are considered a non-lethal explosive device intended to momentarily blind and deafen adversaries. However, the concussive blast at detonation has been known to cause injuries, and the heat created by such a device can ignite flammable material.

Flashbangs can generate between 2,000 and 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, the complaint says. Bou Bou's parents say use of the flashbang grenade was pre-planned by the sheriff's department.

The Phonesavanhs seek compensatory and punitive damages for excessive force, unreasonable search, assault and battery, negligence and other counts.

They are represented by Richard Hendrix of Finch McCranie in Atlanta.

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