Georgia toddler in coma after grenade lands in his playpen during raid

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Courtesy: CNN

CORNELIA, Ga. — Members of a Northeast Georgia SWAT team are “devastated” after a drug raid in which a flash-bang grenade landed in a 1-year-old’s playpen, seriously injuring the child, the Habersham County sheriff said Friday.

WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES in the video above.

The police officers involved have been called baby killers and received threats following the incident, Sheriff Joey Terrell said.

“All I can say is pray for the baby, his family and for us,” he told CNN.

The SWAT team, made up of six or seven officers from the sheriff’s department and the Cornelia Police Department, entered the Cornelia residence Wednesday before 3 a.m.

A confidential informant hours earlier had purchased methamphetamine at the house, the sheriff says. Because the suspected drug dealer, Wanis Thonetheva, had a previous weapons charge, officers were issued a “no-knock warrant” for the residence, Terrell said.

When the SWAT team hit the home’s front door with a battering ram, it resisted as if something was up against it, the sheriff said, so one of the officers threw the flash-bang grenade inside the residence.

Once inside the house, the SWAT team realized it was a portable playpen blocking the door, and the flash-bang grenade had landed inside where the 19-month-old was sleeping, the sheriff said.

A medic on the scene rushed the baby outside to administer first aid, and a nearby ambulance was summoned. Authorities wanted to transport the baby via Life Flight to Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital, 75 miles southwest of Cornelia, but weather conditions wouldn’t allow it. The baby was driven to the hospital.

A Grady official said it’s hospital policy not to disclose patients’ conditions, but the child’s mother, Alecia Phonesavanh, told CNN affiliate WSB that doctors had put her son into an induced coma.

She further told the station the family was sleeping at her sister-in-law’s house when police arrived, and the grenade seared a hole through the portable playpen after exploding on the child’s pillow.

Courtesy: CNN

Courtesy: CNN

“He didn’t deserve any of this,” Phonesavanh told WSB. “He’s in the burn unit. We go up to see him and his whole face is ripped open. He has a big cut on his chest.”


Thonetheva, 30, was not at the home at the time of the raid, but the toddler’s mother and father and their other three children were inside. Thonetheva’s mother was also at the house, Terrell said.

The baby’s family had moved into the Cornelia residence after their Wisconsin home burned, Terrell told CNN affiliate WXIA, and while the family members were aware of drug activity in the home, “they kept the children out of sight in a different room while any of these going-ons were happening.”

Thonetheva was arrested at another Cornelia residence, along with three other people, shortly after the raid, Terrell said. He is charged with distribution of methamphetamine. Habersham County Chief Assistant District Attorney J. Edward Staples said Thonetheva could also be charged in connection with the baby’s injuries.

Thonetheva was already out on bond for an October 2013 charge of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony — the felony being distribution of methamphetamine, Staples said.

Because the Habersham County public defender’s office is representing Thonetheva’s co-defendant in the October case, they are unable to represent Thonetheva on the charges handed down this week, Staples said. It will take five to seven days to appoint him a new attorney, the prosecutor estimated.

Thonetheva made his first appearance before a magistrate Friday, but no bond was set because of the circumstances regarding the public defender. The court wouldn’t have accepted a plea from Thonetheva because he has yet to speak to counsel, Staples said, adding that it will be up to a county Superior Court judge to set Thonetheva’s bond after he’s assigned a lawyer.

He is presently being held at the Habersham County Detention Center without bond. His rap sheet shows nine arrests since 2002 and includes charges of drug possession, carrying a concealed weapon, driving while his license was withdrawn and contempt of court.

Thonetheva faces no weapons charge in this week’s incident, and as for drugs, Terrell said officers found only residue in the home.

No officers have been suspended, and Staples said he expects the review of the incident — being conducted by Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Brian Rickman — to take about a week.

Staples said he recalled no previous use-of-force investigations into the sheriff’s department, though a civil suit was previously filed against a drug task force there. Terrell said there have been no prior probes into the Cornelia Police Department.

A local pastor came to speak with the officers Thursday, the sheriff said, and his department has been in touch with the child’s family.

In hindsight, Terrell said, officers would’ve conducted the raid differently had they known there was a child inside the home, but there was no sign of children during the alleged drug purchase that prompted the raid.

“We would obviously would have done things different,” Terrell said. “We might have gone in through a side door. … We would not have used a flash bang.”

The toddler’s family told WSB they have no insurance and have set up a website to collect donations for the baby’s treatment.

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  • chelsie

    I don’t mean to sound cruel but this is why you have to be more careful about where and who you have your children around. Never would I ever under ANY circumstances have my children in a home where drugs could possibly be. Family or not. If your house burns down, you go to a hotel or a shelter, if you don’t have a decent place to go.

  • Damon

    On one hand I completely agree that it was incredibly stupid for these parents to keep a handful of children in a drug house, but for Terrell to state that there were no signs of children in the home was utterly ridiculous. What signs of activity did they expect to see from children at 3am?

    I just pray that baby is able to pull through.

    • Christina

      They were not referring to child activity at 3 am. They were referring to child activity when the informant was there purchasing the meth. As the article states, the parents knew the activity that went on in the house and kept the children out of view. Therefore the informant did not see any children when they were there, so when he reported back to the police why would he mention seeing children in the house.
      Yes, this is an unfortunate incident and I do hope the little boy heals and recovers.

    • wellnessclinician

      The police were acting on information provided by the informant; based on the report, since children were kept in a separate room during drug deals the informant would not have had knowledge to report regarding the children. A person with good judgement would not have the children anywhere near this type of activity, however, that does not minimize the tragedy.

  • David

    Parents knew of drug activity in the house but put their child in danger by staying there. Even put the child at the entrance to the home. I think we’ll hear more on this story and I think charges of child endangerment are in order since they knowingly and willingly had their child in the home. Sad that children have this around them and sad that parents subject the children to this. Sounds like several other issues here (house burned down and now this?)

  • Patti Drury


  • OneLove

    I do not understand why the hell the baby was asleep in a playpen behind the front door!! That makes absolutely no sense and I think the parents should be held 100% responsible for what happened to this poor little guy!! How selfish and negligent of these parents to put the child in a precarious situation. Unreal…

    • Nick

      The baby was not asleep in the playpen behind the door, you read any other new stations story on this and he was in the room with the parents and other children, and I’m sorry but there’s no way a playpen would block the officers from entering a house, they are plastic and light as could be. But I do agree the kid shouldn’t have been put in the situation. And it’s wasn’t

  • Dawn

    I am sure all of the officers feel terrible. I feel sorry for the poor kids and the officers. The article says the man they were looking for was wanted for distribution not manufacturing. The cops would not have thrown in the flash grenade if they suspected manufacturing going on. That could have blown up the house. I do feel the parents were neglectful putting their children at risk moving in to a home they knew had drug activity, but they may not have had anywhere else to go, but to this family who was willing to take them in under their current circumstances. Praying for all.

  • Michael

    My heart goes out to this baby and to all of the officers involved in this terrible accident. For people to threaten these officer’s lives is utterly stupid. The parents and the occupants of the house are the people that should receive the negative reactions and responses from people. I pray that these officer’s and this baby especially are able to recover and heal from this tragedy. May God bless them.

  • Tom Moulthrop

    That cop couldn’t wait to use that flash grenade. Police around here do the same . Those are military grenades and cops are not qualified to use them. As a matter of fact, cops aren’t smart enough to use them. I hope the cops involved feel some pain from this.

    • Ben

      You are just shooting off your mouth. How would you know if the cops were trained to use grenades or not? My guess is that they were trained and it was legal for them to use. What makes you want to protect the druggies? I guess you may be one of them. I doubt if you are smart enough to ever qualify to be a cop.

  • Tiffany Ditzfeld

    Maybe the snitch should have paid more attention to detail! You can’t tell me all these children lived in the house & yet there was still not one bit of evidence that children resided in the house!?!? for instance, the playpen? Toys? the children’s voices? Come on now, there had to be something that would give the idea of children being in the house… but then again, dude probably didn’t care he was there for one thing and one thing only.. to get his fix!! I’m not disagreeing that the parents should have never had the kids in the home, but they did. fact of the matter is an innocent baby is now possibly fighting for his life.. something a child should never have to do at the hands of another person. The coulda woulda shoulda’s are all irrelevant.. it happened, the blame game changes nothing. I’m sure they didn’t want to stay there but its possible that it was the last resort & only option. Pointing fingers and judging the decisions of another changes nothing but the judgers character. Hopefully the baby pulls through & the family bounces back to a healthy happy life!! God will tend to their every need!!

  • jp

    Brute police force claims another victim, flashbang on a baby?never thought id see this, but police are innocent of all crime they commit in the name of “justice” whats next? Beat a kid in a wheel chair? Oh wait they already did that

    • Aaron Griffin

      The cops used a BATTERING RAM on the door and the baby was “sleeping” in the play pen directly against the door. It was AFTER this that the cop decided to use a grenade. Doesn’t anyone wonder how the cop didn’t hear the 18 month old kid freaking out in terror from the door getting busted in at 3am? If the door was blocked, how did the grenade assist the cops in entering? You use a flash grenade to surprise and enter quickly. Were they blocked from entering or not?? If not, why fabricate the story? If so, why the grenade? Sending a warning before finding a different entrance elsewhere?

    • Ben

      Why are some of you jackasses blaming the police instead of the druggies? If you lived next door to a drug house, you would be screaming for the police to do something about it using any means necessary. I think some of the complainers have had run ins with the law in the past but of course, they did nothing wrong and the police were just picking on them. Idiots.

      • Nick

        Maybe it’s because cops have made a name for them selfs, now that everyone have a video camera in there pocket it is just more commonly known. And do you think calling them idiots is making you sound any smarter? You are dropping right down to there level. And some people have done nothing and have had cops pick on them. Known fact. So maybe you should use your computer and do a bit of research before before you start calling people idiots, honestly it just makes you sound uneducated. Also my brother is a cop and I know for a fact some cops have bad days, just like anyone , and take it out on people, so like I said do your research, get educated, them come back and comment.

  • Mother Trucker

    Wow. Terrible news. :( Prayers for the child. Idiot parents. They stated in the interview that “they knew drug activity was taking place” in the home but just hid the kids when it was going on. They blocked the door with the child’s playpen? Now they say they have no insurance and are collecting money? Should have signed up for Obamacare and gotten your insurance. They will probably use donations to help out their drug dealing relative. All so sad and tragic. :(

  • K.B.

    Everday a drug deal goes bad in one way or another. What if someone decided to bring a gun into the situation? Just one example of many. The parents were ignorant if they thought that they were not putting their baby in harms way.

  • Kate Castle

    In hindsight, Terrell said, officers would’ve conducted the raid differently had they known there was a child inside the home, but there was no sign of children during the alleged drug purchase that prompted the raid.

    no play pen or toys??? i don’t believe that……

  • random guy

    First, any parent who knowingly allows their children to reside in a house where illegal drug activity is conducted should lose their children and their freedom, period.
    As for the officers… Not sure why a flashbang would be thrown into a house where meth is sold as there is no way to know for sure that the drug isn’t being manufactured there as well. The chemicals used to make meth can be explosive/highly flammable and flashbangs could cause a massive fire or explosion in that environment.
    Also, flashbangs should never be tossed blindly into an area for exactly the reason that this scenario has illustrated. People have been killed by them and injuries from these devices are usually horrific.
    If you ask me… There was a lot of negligence contributing to this tragic outcome, and it was coming from more than one source.

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