A federal grand jury has indicted a Habersham County deputy sheriff on charges of falsifying information to obtain and execute a “no-knock” search warrant for drugs last year that employed the use of a flash grenade and seriously injured a young child.
Nikki Autry, 29, of Clarkesville, a former special agent of the Mountain Judicial Circuit Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team, will be arraigned this week on charges of civil rights violations related to unreasonable searches and seizures and arrest without probable cause.
Officers raiding a home in Cornelia in May 2014 used a flash grenade, which creates a bright flash and loud bang to distract suspects, to enter the residence of an alleged methamphetamine dealer.
The grenade landed inside the playpen of a sleeping 18-month-old boy, Bounkham P. “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh, causing severe burns to his face requiring a medically-induced coma.
The Habersham County government reached a settlement agreement with the boy’s family earlier this year.
The agreement totals $964,000 paid through the National Fire Insurance Co. policy for the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office. More than $500,000 will go toward medical expenses.
The settlement ended the claims brought against the sheriff’s office.
Now, federal investigators say the raid never should have happened in the first place.
According to the indictment, Autry, a 10-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, and other members of the NCIS team were attempting to purchase narcotics during an undercover operation when an unofficial informant claimed to have bought methamphetamine from an unknown individual at the Cornelia home.
Though police surveillance was not adequate to verify the purchase, a judge signed off on the warrant based on information provided by Autry, according to the indictment.
“Without her false statements, there was no probable cause to search the premises for drugs or to make the arrest,” John Horn, acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said in a news release Wednesday. “And in this case, the consequences of the unlawful search were tragic.”
Authorities say Autry knew the informant was not reliable and had not purchased any methamphetamine from anyone at the home.