Feds indict former Georgia deputy sheriff for her role in botched SWAT raid that maimed toddler
In the early morning hours of May 28, 2014, Nikki Autry, a deputy sheriff in Habersham County, Georgia, presented a search warrant affidavit to the magistrate judge, swearing under oath that a known confidential informant who had been reliable in the past purchased a small amount of methamphetamine from an individual standing outside a residence. Based on this information, the judge issued a “no-knock” warrant. At 2:30 AM, SWAT officers performed a paramilitary-style SWAT raid on the home, where residents included four children under the age of eight. The SWAT team broke down the door while the family slept, and tossed a flash bang grenade into one of the rooms. The grenade landed inside a 19-month-old baby’s crib.
When the grenade exploded, it blew a hole so deep in the baby’s chest that his ribs were exposed. The baby’s face was disfigured and third-degree burns covered his body. “Baby Bou Bou” fought for his life for several weeks in a burn unit, in a medically induced coma. Washington Times reported on how the SWAT team treated the boy’s mother on the night of the raid:
“I heard my baby wailing and asked one of the officers to let me hold him,” the boy’s mother, Alecia Phonesavanh, told Salon magazine in June. “He screamed at me to sit down and shut up and blocked my view, so I couldn’t see my son. I could see a singed crib, and I could see a pool of blood.
“The officers yelled at me to calm down and told me my son was fine, that he’d just lost a tooth,” she added. “It was only hours later when they finally let us drive to the hospital that we found out Bou Bou was in the intensive burn unit and that he’d been placed into a medically induced coma.”
Baby Bou Bou’s family was quickly overwhelmed with medical expense debt. The county refused to reimburse the family for a single dime of the debt.
Habersham County officials are defending their decision not to pay for the child’s medical bills, saying it wouldn’t be legal to take on the costs.
“The question before the board was whether it is legally permitted to pay these expenses,” Habersham County’s attorney told WSBTV in a statement. “After consideration of this question following advice of counsel, the board of commissioners has concluded that it would be in violation of the law for it to do so.”
Georgia cops quickly blamed the family for the tragedy, claiming that the family was “living in a drug house.” Radley Balko notes that subsequent internal investigation, DA, and state investigations all cleared the cops.
No drugs were found in the home, and neither was the person of interest mentioned in the sworn affidavit. The person of interest did not live there, the house was not a “drug house” with “drug traffic,” the known informant who had been ‘reliable in the past’ was not known and had never been used- and the alleged drug sale was never verified. In fact, according to the federal indictment, the information that then-Deputy Nikki Autry presented to the judge to obtain the no-knock warrant on that tragic night was apparently one hundred percent fact-free bullshit. The Department of Justice press release published on Wednesday, July 22, describes the events leading to Nikki Autry’s federal indictment:
According to Acting U.S. Attorney Horn, the indictment, and other information presented in court: Autry worked for the Habersham County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office from 2004 to 2014. On the night of May 27, 2014, Autry and other members of the NCIS team were attempting undercover narcotics buys from various subjects in Habersham County.
Eventually, a brand new NCIS informant and two of his associates – his wife and a roommate – went to a residence located in Cornelia, Georgia. The informant’s roommate, who was not officially working with NCIS, approached the residence and allegedly purchased a small quantity of methamphetamine from an individual unknown to him who was standing outside the residence. There was no police surveillance to verify the purchase. Shortly afterwards, Autry presented an affidavit to a Habersham County magistrate judge falsely swearing that the NCIS informant made the purchase and that the NCIS informant was “a true and reliable informant who has provided information in the past that has led to criminal charges on individuals selling narcotics in Habersham County.”
The federal indictment alleges that Autry 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. Based on this false information, the magistrate judge issued a “no-knock” search warrant for the residence and an arrest warrant for W. T., who allegedly sold the methamphetamine. The warrant obtained by Autry was executed approximately two hours later, during the early morning hours of May 28, 2014.
During the execution of the search warrant, a Habersham County deputy sheriff tossed a “flash and noise distractionary device,” also known as a flash bang grenade, into a side door of the residence. The flash bang grenade was thrown directly into the room where an 18-month-old toddler was sleeping. The grenade landed inside the toddler’s playpen and critically injured him. The toddler and his family had been staying at the residence for approximately six weeks prior to the search. They are relatives of the lawful occupants of the residence. W. T. was arrested shortly after the flash bang incident at a nearby residence.
Nikki Autry, 29, of Clarkesville, Georgia, will be arraigned by a U.S. Magistrate Judge later this week. The indictment charges Autry with four counts of civil rights violations for willfully depriving the occupants of the residence of their right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by a police officer and for knowingly depriving W. T. of his right to be free from arrest without probable cause.
Nikki Autry was a lying cop who meant to lie and she did lie. Apparently acting on an unfounded hunch that she hoped would pan out to her benefit, she lied freely and with a straight face, in a sworn affidavit that was likely not the first of its kind.
In the end, a child was maimed in the name of a fifty-dollar drug sale that never happened. This is what the War on Drugs looks like.