Janesville boy in critical condition after incident in Georgia

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Frank Schultz
Monday, June 2, 2014

A 19-month-old boy from Janesville has undergone one surgery and needs another after a stun grenade tore open his face and chest last week in Georgia, the family's lawyer said Monday.

The toddler is in an induced coma and has undergone one surgery to close the wound to his face, said attorney Mawuli Davis, a spokesman for the Phonesavanh family.

A second surgery, to close the boy's chest, was postponed Monday, Davis said.

“His temperature has been too high, and they felt he's been too fragile to perform the surgery, so the hope is he'll have a better night tonight, and he'll be stable enough for the surgery in the morning,” Davis said.

Law officers threw the grenade into a room during a no-knock search-warrant raid at 3 a.m. Wednesday, according to news reports. Officers had hoped to arrest a drug suspect at the home in the house in Cornelia, about 80 miles from Atlanta.

Instead, the grenade, known as a flashbang, landed in a playpen and exploded in the face of Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh, family members have said.

The suspect was not at the home. He was arrested later at a different location.

The room was a garage that had been converted to a bedroom, according to news reports. The family, including parents Alecia and Bounkham Phonesavanh and their four children, were sleeping in the room.

Davis said Bou Bou, pronounced Boo Boo, is the youngest child. He has three older sisters, the oldest of which is about 6, Davis said.

The family was preparing to return to Wisconsin after visiting a distressed relative in Georgia, Davis said.

Now, the parents plan to stay in a hotel until Bou Bou is able to travel, Davis said.

Ministers from various denominations from the Atlanta area held a “moving and powerful prayer vigil” for the boy Monday, Davis said.

Meanwhile, Davis said he has investigators taking photos and measurements at the scene, hoping to preserve evidence. Authorities have not treated the house as a crime scene, Davis said.

A call placed to the Habersham County Sheriff's Office was not returned Monday.

Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell has said the officers were looking for a suspect who may have been armed and followed proper procedure by using the device, which creates a bright flash and loud bang.

If officers had any indication that children were in the house, they would have used a different door and would not have used the flash grenade, Terrell said.

Davis said a playpen was in the yard, along with Easter egg materials in the driveway, and the family's van had four child seats in it.

“We just find it difficult to believe it was in fact under surveillance because they would've seen children and the father playing in front of the house on a daily basis,” Davis said.

Davis is calling for a federal investigation because of what he sees as inaction by local authorities.

In an interview with investigators, Alecia Phonesavanh said she knew methamphetamine was being sold at the home and tried to keep her four children away from drug activity, Terrell said.

Davis stressed the family had no involvement with drugs.

The officers involved are upset, and they and their families have been receiving death threats, Terrell said.

There is no continuing investigation, and the officers involved are still on duty, Terrell said. It is up to the local prosecutor to decide whether the case merits further investigation, the sheriff said.

Habersham County District Attorney Brian Rickman told WSB-TV his office will review the incident and witness statements to determine whether charges should be filed.

A lawsuit is possible, Davis said, but right now the family is focusing on doing everything possible to encourage further investigation and to push for criminal prosecution.

“It's unbelievable those officers continue to be on the street and continue to be employed after the way the family was treated and the son was injured,” Davis said.

Previous reports quoted family members as saying Bou Bou had a 50 percent chance of survival. Davis said he didn't want to place odds on the situation,

“This is a very medically dangerous posture that he is in. He's in a very critical place,” Davis said.

The Phonesavanhs lost their apartment to a fire in Janesville in March. A Janesville Fire Department report says the fire was reported at 5:30 a.m. March 18 in a two-unit apartment, whose addresses are 120 Linn St. and 904 McKinley St.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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