CORNELIA, Ga. -- A toddler caught in the middle of a drug raid was seriously injured Wednesday when a police flash grenade exploded in his playpen.
The raid in which the 19-month-old child, who is recovering at Grady Hospital's burn unit in Atlanta, was injured was at a house in Habersham County.
Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell, who described the device in various ways — a "stun grenade" and "flash grenade" and "flash bang" — said there was no indication that a family with four children were guests in the suspected drug dealer's house when his team went in and threw that flash grenade to try to arrest the suspect.
Terrell said his team made an undercover drug buy at the house just a few hours before the raid.
When sheriff's deputies and Cornelia police officers, who make up the Special Response team, obtained a no-knock warrant and tried to go into the drug suspect's house just after midnight Wednesday, something was blocking the door from the inside. Terrell said they didn't know it was the playpen of the 19-month-old child, and that the boy was in the playpen sleeping.
"There was an obstruction, they inserted a flash bang, they had to push the door open. When they entered the door, they noticed it was a playpen, or like a pack-and-play type device," Terrell said. "There was a young child in the pack-and-play."
The flash grenade had exploded next to the child, Bou Phonesavanh. He suffered serious burns. Family friends have sent up a gofundme.com site to raise money for his medical expenses.
The sheriff did arrest the suspect, Wanis Thomethera, 30, along with three others. He said his deputies interviewed the parents, who told them that the suspect is a relative, and that the family only recently moved in with him because their house in Wisconsin burned.
"They (told us they) knew that the homeowner's son was selling meth, so they kept the children out of sight in a different room while any of these going-ons were happening," Terrell said. "So when (our confidential informants) did go up and buy drugs at the house, they didn't see any evidence of children in the home."
Terrell said his office is keeping in contact with the boy's mother. The sheriff says he and all the law officers who were part of this raid are heartbroken, but he says he doesn't know what they could have done differently.
"The information we had from our confidential informant was there was no children in the home. We always ask; that determines how we enter the house and the things we do," Terrell said. "(Police) had no way of knowing the child was in the house. The little baby was in there, didn't deserve this. These drug dealers don't care."