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Credibility of informants questioned as ex-Habersham deputy faces trial
Toddler injured by grenade during May 2014 search of Cornelia home
FederalCourthouse
Ex-Habersham County Sheriff's Office deputy Nikki Autry, 29, of Cleveland, appeared Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Gainesville to face allegations of federal civil rights violations.

A $50 drug buy involving a new confidential informant led to a May 2014 search that left a toddler with severe facial burns from a flash-bang grenade, according to testimony Tuesday.

Nikki Autry, 29, of Cleveland, appeared Tuesday in U.S. District Court to face allegations of federal civil rights violations. She was indicted in July on charges of allegedly providing false information to a judge to obtain the search warrant, which would be a Fourth Amendment violation.

On May 28, 2014, a Habersham County Sheriff’s Office deputy tossed a flash-bang grenade into a Cornelia home, landing near an 18-month-old toddler, Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh. The Sheriff’s Office alleged the boy’s uncle, Wanis Thonetheva, had made the drug sale.

Bou Bou was hospitalized with burns from the grenade.

Mary Webb from the U.S. Attorney’s Office began the trial with her opening statement to the jury around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“She had told that judge lies to get that warrant issued,” Webb said.

Webb said Autry was using a new informant, a person who was offered the opportunity to work with the drug task force after being caught with drugs. The new informant’s first day with the task force was the day before the search of the Cornelia home.

The informant, Webb said, attempted to buy drugs while accompanied by his wife and roommate, who were not officially working with the drug task force.

The informant’s roommate made the purchase at the home, Webb said, and the three then communicated with Autry about the sale.

Thonetheva had been “kicked out weeks earlier” from the Cornelia home, Webb said. Bou Bou, his three sisters and his parents were sleeping in the early hours on May 28, 2014, while Autry sought the search warrant.

Webb said there were three alleged misrepresentations in the affidavit provided to the judge, surrounding the “true and reliable informant” who was providing the information from the sale. The U.S. Attorney’s Office also claimed Autry had not confirmed “heavy traffic in and out of the residence.”

Jeff Brickman, Autry’s attorney, said his client had consistently provided correct information to Habersham County Magistrate Court Judge James Butterworth, who signed the warrant.

“He had never once questioned her,” Brickman said, referring to Butterworth and Autry.

Autry had worked previously as a jail dispatcher and jailer before her work with the drug task force, Brickman said.

Brickman said the evidence would show that the three at the Cornelia home thought they saw guards. Thonetheva also had previous weapons charges, he said.

Autry’s attorney stressed that the actions taken following the search warrant that led to Bou Bou’s injuries were not solely Autry’s decisions.

The Habersham County government reached a settlement agreement totalling $964,000 in April. None of the officers involved were charged with criminal wrongdoing by the Habersham County grand jury.