Million Dollar Settlement for Police Raid: Not Enough

A police raid that left a baby’s face disfigured and caused over a million dollars in medical debt got settled for a mere million dollars.

happy baby

Normally, when I hear someone won a million dollar settlement from a local government I think of it as if the person had just won the lottery.

This time, the police who raided a house when they should have known there was a child present are the ones have just won a lottery. The taxpayers of Habersham County, Georgia, will be forced to pay up and make sure no charges are brought against the officers. But the victims in this case, the toddler Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh and his parents, already have more than a million dollars in medical debts because of the police attack. So they are not even being reset to zero.

burned baby

As Reason.com reports,

The SWAT team that raided the house in Cornelia, based on a $50 meth purchase by a police informant, found no drugs or weapons. They were looking for the Phonesavanhs’ nephew, Wanis Thonetheva, an alleged meth dealer who no longer lived there. Police arrested Thonetheva later that day at a different location without incident, despite the fear of armed resistance that supposedly justified the paramilitary assault that sent Bou Bou to the hospital. Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell, whose officers participated in the raid along with cops from Cornelia, initially promised to pay the Phonesavanhs’ medical expenses, which reportedly total more than $1 million, but the Habersham County Board of Commissioners reneged on that commitment.

Yesterday Andrea Harper, the board’s chairwoman, sought to paper over that decision. “The events of May 28, 2014, were undoubtedly tragic, affecting the lives of many people in our community,” she said. “Over the last few months the board of county commissioners has sought a way to bring some measure of closure to this matter while doing what is right, both for the Phonesavanh family and the law enforcement officers involved.” Harper said the settlement includes “protection of our officers and our county,” which presumably means none of the cops can be held personally liable for damages. Instead taxpayers, as usual, will pick up the tab for police violence.

So the police will never lose anything over this. And the County board gets to sweep the real victims out of sight by referring to a vague group: “the lives of many people in our community.”

Why did the Phonesavanhs settle for so little? Jacob Sullum at Reason.com guesses that they were told the prosecution would blame them for putting the child in harm’s way. Even if they allegedly knew that their relative was engaged in some illegal activity, they still had no reason to expect that the cops would walk past their van at three in the morning, ignoring the child seats in side, and lob a flash bang grenade into their child’s playpen/crib without looking.

Besides, the only reason they were in Georgia was because their Wisconsin home had burned down. This wasn’t a voluntary vacation they were on.

Here is the mother a day or two after the event.

Was this woman being treated justly? Does a settlement that leaves the deputies at their jobs and doesn’t even cover medical expenses incurred thus far give justice to her burned child?