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Ex-deputy on trial testifies about her role in getting search warrant
Nikki Autry accused of giving misinformation that resulted in toddler's injuries from flash grenade
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A former Habersham County Sheriff’s Office deputy told a jury Thursday she would never tell a judge misinformation and “put (her) career on the line for a $50 drug buy” or any other arrest.

Nikki Autry, 29, of Cleveland, took the stand Thursday afternoon in the third day of testimony at the U.S. District Courthouse in Gainesville. Autry is accused of providing false information to a Magistrate Court judge to obtain a “no-knock” warrant. An 18-month-old child was injured May 28, 2014, after a flash-bang grenade exploded in the toddler’s crib.

Autry, while working with a drug task force, used a confidential informant to buy drugs to lead to potential arrests. On the informant’s first day, the man was able to buy pills before hearing about a potential methamphetamine deal, Autry said.

The confidential informant went with his wife and roommate, who were not officially working with the drug task force. The informant’s roommate allegedly bought methamphetamine from Wanis Thonetheva at a Cornelia home, Autry said.

The former deputy then took a search warrant affidavit typed by her commander to Habersham County Magistrate Court Judge James Butterworth, who needed to sign the warrant.

The affidavit claimed a “true and reliable informant” made the buy, which the U.S. Attorney’s Office said was misleading because the roommate allegedly handled the transaction.

“My mindset was that (the confidential informant) was working as a team,” Autry said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office also claims there was no evidence to support the claim of heavy traffic in and out of the home.

Autry said the affidavit could have been worded better, but she repeatedly told the jury she believed the information was accurate and had no intention to conceal information from the judge.

Butterworth took the stand Thursday morning, saying the alleged drug sale and previous weapons charges justified the “no-knock” warrant.

When asked by William McKinnon of the U.S. Attorney’s Office if he would still issue the warrant without the allegedly misleading information, Butterworth said there would not be enough facts to support it.

In the early hours of May 28, 2014, law enforcement entered the Cornelia home where then 18-month-old Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh and his family were sleeping. A deputy tossed a flash-bang grenade that burned Bou Bou’s face.

“It was hard,” Autry said. “I’m a mother, so it was hard to deal with.”

When cross-examining Autry, McKinnon brought up text messages received and sent by Autry in the days after the raid. Some of the messages used explicit language to refer to Thonetheva.

Autry responded to McKinnon’s questions by saying that emotions were running high after the incident.

The defense led by attorneys Jeff Brickman and Michael Trost rested around 5:20 p.m. Thursday. The jury will return at 9:30 a.m. Friday to hear closing arguments and the judge’s instructions before entering deliberation.