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SWAT Tragedy that Burned an Infant Could Have Been Avoided

It’s the duty of all police officers to minimize the risks to innocents.

by
Jack Dunphy

Bio

June 2, 2014 - 2:24 pm
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As unintended consequences go, it doesn’t get much worse than this.  A 19-month-old boy is in critical condition in a Georgia hospital after a flash-bang grenade tossed by a police officer exploded in his crib.   Officers in Habersham County were serving a no-knock search warrant at 3 a.m. at a home where an informant had earlier purchased methamphetamine.  The alleged seller, Wanis Thometheva, was not at home at the time of the raid but was arrested at another location later.  The injured toddler and his parents and three sisters were visiting the home after their own home was damaged in a fire.  The family has no apparent connection with drug trafficking.

The police account of the incident runs as follows: On Tuesday night, an informant made a purchase of methamphetamine from Thometheva at the home in Cornelia, about 70 miles northeast of Atlanta.  Police had some prior knowledge of Thometheva: in a previous drug arrest he was found to have weapons, including an AK-47.  The officers obtained a search warrant for the home, including judicial approval for a “no-knock” entry.  (Officers are ordinarily required to knock and announce themselves prior to entering a location they intend to search, but the U.S. Supreme Court, in Richards v. Wisconsin and United States v. Banks, has held that a judge can waive this requirement if officers offer sufficient justification in their affidavit.)

The search warrant team went to the same doorway where the drug purchase had occurred and breached the door.  The door opened partially but something was preventing it from opening further.  An officer tossed in a flash-bang grenade, a device that gives off a combination of bright light and loud explosion intended to temporarily disorient occupants in the room.  But when the officers finally entered, they found it was a crib that had been blocking the door, and that the grenade had landed in it, severely injuring the little boy. Medics on the warrant team attended to the boy immediately, and he was rushed to a hospital by an ambulance that had been staged nearby.

And now the obvious question: Could this have been avoided?

The simple answer is yes, it could have been, in a number of ways.  First of all, Mr. Thometheva might have engaged in a livelihood other than selling methamphetamine, say, one that did not invite the attention of police officers.  Or the police could have ignored the illegal activity and allowed it, and all  the social ills that accompany methamphetamine abuse, to continue unmolested and poison the community.

I offer these two alternatives in jest, of course.  If police allegations are true, Mr. Thometheva is a drug dealer, and as such, is unlikely to choose a different walk of life without intervention in the form of arrest and imprisonment.  And Habersham County, Georgia, is not the kind of place where the citizenry encourages the police to look the other way when there’s meth dealing going on.  They want it stopped.  But they want it stopped without the cost of toddlers having grenades tossed in their cribs.

So, what options did the police have after making the drug purchase from Mr. Thometheva?   Search warrants can be served in a number of ways, from a low-key visit from a pair of police officers to a full-scale SWAT raid.  Clearly, given Mr. Thometheva’s history, the low-key option was off the table.  The police felt they had ample justification for a SWAT raid, including a no-knock entry, and the issuing magistrate agreed.  It has to be emphasized here that this is not a case of police corruption or cutting corners.  (For a grotesque example of police corruption with tragic results, see here.)  These officers were authorized to do what they did, and they were trained in the use of flash-bang grenades.  And still there was an unacceptable outcome.  Why?

Top Rated Comments   
I'm in my fifties. My criminal history consists of four (maybe five - I don't really remember) speeding tickets. I have a college degree, a J.D., a good job, a great family in my own home - in short, I'm no gang-banger with an everyday hatred for authority.

But I am rapidly developing a different sort of hatred for authority.

When I was a kid, cops were my friends. I knew that. What's more, the cops knew that. Cops were brave individuals who took on a tough job, and took risks in that job, and earned our respect and trust.

It's completely different now, and I can no longer pretend to my kids that they should view cops as I always used to view them. Now, cops are my adversary - MY adversary! Me, Mr. Obey The Law! My kids have now been trained to never speak to cops unless forced to do so, to never call the cops unless there's some legal duty to do so, to never TRUST a cop, ever.

Cops have become nothing more than one of the many gangs seeking to rip us off and hurt us. Between civil forfeiture, mass surveillance, and their predominant philosophy of killing us before we possibly threaten them, they are likely THE most dangerous gang that most of us will ever encounter.

Compare how many cops are currently killed in a year with how many innocent victims they kill in that same year. Essentially, they blow us away at will, and then turn on their machinery of silence and lies to quiet the rest of us.

I've had a hard time accepting that there could have been this much change in my lifetime, but I can't ignore it any more. Cops are NOT our friends.
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
If I fire blindly into a house and I hurt or kill an innocent person, while in no fear of imminent harm to myself or others, I somehow earn a matching set of steel bracelets and a all expense paid vacation for 10-20years. When I start seeing police held to the same standard I am held to I will start respecting them again. As it stands now, they are sloppy, careless, dangerous thugs with sovereign immunity, a badge and no remorse who they hurt/kill-- they get to go home safe at the end of their shift.
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
If we fail in this, not only do we discredit our own efforts, but we break faith with the people on whose behalf we serve.

That faith was broken a long time ago. Every incident like this makes it that much harder to rebuild any faith.
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (102)
All Comments   (102)
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police don't use caution , they only follow orders . WAKE UP !
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
A few seconds with a borescope would have solved the problem, and the "you never know..." line tells me Mr. Dunphy does not even know what a borescope is, despite having "been the author and planner of perhaps a hundred of my own warrants and tactical plans".

Whoa. That speaks loads. Why don't police officers think of things that are second nature to intelligence agencies? Sure, things like borescopes just don't have the testosterone pumping hoo-ah manliness of grenades, but dammit, looking through a wall is so useful.

And they could go all out and use a "See through the wall" radar. Google it. I think those are at least as cool as flash bang grenades, but hey, I'm not a cop, right?

Too much? We also have cameras in little balls that can be tossed in. Israelis use them to avoid exactly this problem, in fact they invented them, and they're after much tougher game than meth dealers.. and they STILL try to avoid grenading babies. Bad press.

You see... there's the problem. Cops don't think like intel guys think.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
Jack, I generally enjoy and agree with your articles but I have some questions I'd like you to consider.

My understanding is that the first priority of the police is to protect innocent people, citizens. Whatever felony you observe you don't fire at a fleeing purp when he enters a crowd on the street. There is a debate as to whether police should engage in hot pursuit in many cases (not all) because of innocent people being killed in collisions with those fleeing or police vehicles. I think that's as it should be don't you?

Here's a situation where an informant, events were to prove, of questionable veracity, fingering a suspected dealer, suspected to be armed in a house suspected to be empty except for the purp. Police response is top tier, nothing lesser considered apparently, Why not?

The raid goes down. A crib blocks the door. How could a crib block a charging police officer? I can only guess that could happen if when the door was forced, that the crib was swept by the door and jammed between the partially open door and a wall. At that point a grenade of some level of lethality was thrown into an American home with no idea who the occupants were. Think of that for a second, a grenade was blindly thrown into an American home. Wouldn't such a tactic dictate that it be thrown into the middle of the room to blind everyone. How did it come to land in the crib which would mean that the grenade was tossed close to, putting the officer at risk, unless it was lobbed right over the door.

The US army decided lighten up on the rules of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, cowboy stuff was counter productive to the mission i.e. pacification. It's a path all successful COIN operations follow. It's estimated that there are 50,000 SWATs a year and I have to wonder if they aren't more aggressive than the army finds beneficial to the mission in a war zone not to mention that a certain percentage of them simply have to be a wrong address.

Why does Fish and Game have a SWAT team, why the Agriculture dept., why all the rest? How does all this differ from a "national police force" and said force becoming more and more reckless and out of control?

Jack, please reply.


7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
the low-key option was off the table

Police behave like thugs and worse than thugs. They break down doors, they scream obscenities, they hold guns to children's heads, they kill any pets found, and they do this deliberately and as a matter of policy. They work themselves up, adrenalinize themselves, and they do it on purpose. They train for it. They operate in terrorem as a choice. These people threw a grenade into a room they knew was occupied and they burned a toddler. Because they thought, not that anyone might be in danger, but that someone might possibly be selling drugs. On nothing but the word of a "confidential informant", no less. Christ.

Which is to say, the police would be wise to put the "low-key option", also known as acting like police and not like gang members, back ON the table unless they want the citizenry to start seeing police uniforms as the colors of a rival gang and responding accordingly.

Police used to have the respect of the law-abiding. They used to be regarded as possessing moral authority. That's long over and done with. You're not Officer Friendly any more; you're the people who hurt our children.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
If LEO's didn't engage in no-knock raids, how would the justify the "toys" they have received from the Feds to "combat" crime?
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think the SWAT presence was certainly justified, but they dropped the ball completely on surveillance. I'd FAR rather pay some officers to stand watch in an unmarked car with coffee and snacks than go for a no-knock.

Once you know when to expect the bad guy, or if he is even there, wait for him to leave or return, then ambush him with SWAT officers on 120 degree angles. (12, 4, and 8'oclock) He's boxed in, all the officers have clear lines of fire, and he won't be able to draw a weapon without one of them seeing it.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
When you decide to use force to prevent your neighbors from using substances like methamphetamine, you're deciding it's worth it when the police hurt innocent people. Violent enforcement can never be perfectly targeted.

If you're not OK with having the police occasionally hurt innocent people, then you need to start to rethink substance prohibitions. Fewer prohibitions means fewer incidents of the violent enforcement of those prohibitions and fewer innocents hurt by the police.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
We dont decide to use force, the Police do.

They write their training manuals, not us.
They decide on their "rules of engagement" and "use of force", not us.
They determine what arms and equipment they may employ, and what justifies it use against us.

We have no control over that process.

If their methods are objectively stupid, indefensible, and unnecessary, and/or they are incompetent or immoral in their execution, there is nothing we can do about it once a "policy" has been decided upon BY THEM.

In the aftermath of (another) Police fiasco, all they have to prove is they were “within their guidelines” do what they did.

We’re covered, sucks to be you is all they’ll ever to us say on the matter.

We don’t TELL them to use force. We ALLOW them to make that choice as needed, based on the (faulty) assumption they are moral and competent enough to do so.

The problem today is two fold:

1) They are not.
2) They do not CARE that they are not.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
Deciding to prohibit and police is a decision to use force and violence. How else can the prohibition be enforced?

You know that innocent people are hurt when the police enforce the law. If you didn't before, now you do. If you're still in favor of the law, you're making the judgement that prohibition is worth a little innocent bloodshed. You can't wash your hands of it.

Force and violence are needed to prohibit murders and other violent crimes. Using force and violence to police non-violent activities is, at best, questionable and at worst, outright evil. Plus in the case of illegal drugs, it just doesn't work very well. How many more innocent people need to be hurt before we start to reconsider it?
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
I completely reject you premise.

One has NOTHING to do with the other. SWAT will raid for any reason they can get away with, because its "fun".

Meth Heads, Coke Fiends, and Needle junkies (and a large percentage of Stoners) are human waste. Anyone stupid enough to pollute their body and mind with that which was DESIGNED to enslave, ought to do us all a favor and jump off a bridge.

They will ALWAYS have to steal from the rest of us because they will ALWAYS be incapable of gainful employment to cover their own basic necessities like FOOD and SHELTER, regardless of the legal/illegal cost structure of their chosen fix.

You CAN enforce appropriate Drug Laws without throwing grenades into a child crib.

One has nothing to do with the other, unless you are milking a tragedy to better the odds for a for a free, Government Supplied fix.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
You CAN enforce drug laws without throwing grenades into a baby's crib. But they DON'T. In the real world there are real consequences. They'll make mistakes. Innocents will be maimed and killed.

The next time the police hurt a child in a drug raid, it will be partly because you gave the go-ahead. You decided innocent bloodshed is worthwhile -- or at least you decided to pretend it might not happen, even though you actually know it will.

Righteousness about drugs already caused one grenade to be thrown into one baby's crib. How many more will it take for you to set aside the righteousness and try to deal with the world as it is?
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
The easiest way to avoid this would be to not try to control what adults do with their own bodies.
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
Dunphy says: “in a previous drug arrest he was found to have weapons, including an AK-47”

Umm…… yeah…..Thats all the MORE reason to try pinching this guy, diddy-bopping down the street in broad daylight with nothing in his hands...

Instead of in the dark of night, while he's all warm and cozy behind closed doors at HIS crib OK?

I mean, if he’s so effing dangerous, how come you didn’t have tabs on his whereabouts? Ever heard of, oh, I dunno, “surveillance”?

What a bunch of morons.

Its Basic Police Work, guys.
Leave the Robo-cop suit alone and DO some for a change, mmmkay?

Unintended Consequences my ass. Faulty doctrine, bad training, and sh*tty execution, complete with lousy marksmanship and fire control if they ever DO squeeze a trigger, are the norm for these “SWAT” operations anymore….

And whatever CYA whitewash “investigation” they’ll pretend to conduct will prove, once again, that everything was done according to plan, within training and use of force guidelines…

But the sixty-four-thousand-dollar-question that NEVER gets asked is, WHO THE F*CK came up with these plans, guidelines, training, and doctrine?

Who made themself God, and why are THEIR their foolish ideas of “tactical police work” the Irrefutable Stone Tablets we all must accept as Gospel, from Our Lords and Masters?

You guys are a dangerous cocktail of lazy, stupid, and unionized. Completely Insulated, AND Thoroughly Incompetent. Low-skill public payroll goons on the street, managed by a cadre Terminally Politically Corrupted Snakes in The Offices. There is no check, no balance, and no accountability for any of your actions. Even if the family DOES sue, the cost will be borne by the taxpayers…never the Department, its managers, or the undisciplined fools who pull the trigger, or in this case, The Pin.

What a crock of sh*t.

I just hope the guys responsible for this fiasco meet with a Sudden Case of Lead Poisoning.

Cant say they don’t deserve it.

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8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not that the police draw a distinction, but in his home, with time to notice the approach, there's more of a likelyhood that he'd be able to grab a hostage.

But hey, when you presume *everyone* is guilty, that's not a factor in your planning, right?
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
A salty old comment, said in outlandish jest when I was a Marine, is beginning to have a chilling effect:

To the Door Gunner of the Chopper:

"how can you shoot WOMEN and CHILDREN!?"

"easy, you just dont lead them as much"
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
I suspect that to no small amount, that justifying as many SWAT raids as possible lets them push for a bigger budget, and the house raid is further incentivized by asset forfeiture laws.

Root cause: law enforcement as a revenue stream.
7 weeks ago
7 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Clearly, given Mr. Thometheva’s history, the low-key option was off the table."
I'm not buying this. Was there probable cause, beyond past possession of a firearm to believe he would open fire on police serving a a warrant? Did they go full SWAT because there was a possibility the he might try to get violent?
8 weeks ago
8 weeks ago Link To Comment
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