Infant burned after SWAT team throws grenade into playpen

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

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.

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.

“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.


“Them cops busted in the door and threw that grenade in there without even looking first. And it landed right in his playpen and exploded on his pillow right in his face,” the 19-month-old’s mother told WSB.

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.


  • manalishi

    BS! A flash bang is used for a “no-knock” entry when the intent is to kill a person deafened to the point that they could not hear demands. The baby now has serious permanent hearing damage from oathbreakers that have violated the civil rights of the tennant.

  • Kristen

    Not excusing the pilice for this accident in no way but if your going to put your baby in that kind of environment bad will happen. The parents should be ashamed of themselves for exposing their child to this kind of danger. I pray he will be ok and will find a new home where he is safe!

    • manalishi

      Refer to the first post before you support fascism. This is an inexcusable result of this child’s civil rights. Nobody likes dope dealers, but this is whats to be expected by constitutional violations.

  • Tim

    If the parents knew there was drug activity going on, no matter if it was in front of the children or not, then I believe thats called child endangerment and they too should be brought up on charges. I do feel for the child and it is a shame he was hurt but what if that would have been a rival drug dealer and it was bullets flying thru that door instead of the police. There is no excuse any parent can give that justified having those kids in that environment I just hope and pray the child pulls thru but the parents need to be held accountable…..and give it time I’m sure they will sue over this also

    • manalishi

      The parents did not throw a grenade into the playpen Tim. The pathetic parents did not force the police to throw a grenade into the playpen. The pathetic parents did not force the police to violate the 4th amendment. Your a democrat.

      • manalishi

        Quite frankly, by admission, your confess to be a democrat. Therefore you do not understand. Exhibit A. Thank you for proving the point.

    • Tiffany

      There is no way the swat team could have thrown that flash grenade into the play pen if it was blocking the door, when they throw it they throw it away from themselves. The play pen had to be on the other side of the room. Also some people cannot help they have to cram into homes these days with the economy the way it is. I understand the parents should not have allowed those kids to stay in a home where drug activity was going on but if the swat team was there earlier buying drugs and didn’t see the kids it could be the parents didn’t have them around when this stuff was going on, quite possible the parents didn’t even know about it. Either way this poor baby got seriously hurt because of negligence on ALL parts, I pray for this little angel and I hope he gets better fast and feels no pain because he did not deserve this no matter who is at fault. Law enforcement need to be aware of surroundings, they need to pay better attention, they take the job to serve and protect the people, they need to take precautions for their own lives but they need to put the lives of others first that is why they take the oath and the job….right? Losing faith in law enforcement more and more everyday by the way some of these crooked cops are.

  • jaybyrde

    The police should have used better judgement. As far as the parents are concerned they were making arrangement to leave the next day. For those of you who are putting blame on the parents, just remember this could happen to anyone including you. The police were going on informant information which is not always reliable. It doesn’t sound as though they did any surveillance before conducting the raid. Such a sad situation. Praying for this little boy.

    • John

      Hummm the informant made a buy at the house 3 hours earlier. Police were watching the house and the informant

      • Tiffany

        Then the police should have seen the kids playing…right??? or maybe the parents and kids were not around when the drug deal was going on. Im sorry but if I had nowhere to take my kids to sleep any house is better than the streets. EVERYONE is wrong here but placing the blame is not going to make that beautiful baby boy any better. Let him heal and his mother be his mother, then ask the questions

  • Ruth Woodson Salawu

    Ok this is a sad prediction of both the police the so called informant and parents. First police make sure your info is correct. Second informants aren’t always reliable hence the guy was home how did the informant buy from him. Third if parents had just moved there due to their home burning why move in with a known drug dealer. And was this person family a so called friend or a drug acquaintance. Many questions too many questions. Fourth praying for the baby boy to be healed and back in a safe place to live.

  • T Sweeney

    Interesting to note that the US Army’s rules of engagement in Afghanistan prohibits actions like this where a grenade is tossed into a home without knowing who is on the receiving end.

    Time to de-militarize the police and restore the rule of law. You knock at the door and present your warrant. If someone shoots at you, you shoot back. But you don’t batter down the door and toss a flash bang (which cause fires as well as injuries) first.

    • John

      Oh so you want this kid and the other kids to be shot in the crossfire… Real smart there soldier boy ROTC.

      • James Pirtle

        John, you fail to see that after the drug buy the Sheriff’s department failed to keep the house under surveillance for activities of who was going in and out of the house while they obtained their “No Knock Warrant” making the Sheriff’s department not only liable, but negligent by endangering innocent victims. Sheriff and the crew on this drug bust not only need to resign, but face criminal charges for their actions.

    • Fire Fighter

      Stop breaking the law and the police won’t need to use force. Stop being a liberal and being easy on the criminals . Society wants to blame everyone else. Take responsibility for your own actions.

      • lisa McLaurin holt

        Pigs break the law every day and no one hits them with grenades. I have sense enough to know that a no knock order give officers the element of surprise. What the hell were they doing with a grenade? They should be jailed and sued.

  • tom

    police not at fault. the drug dealer and the baby’s mother are 100% responsible. If they were not breaking the law, this wouldn’t have happened. No pity for anyone here.

    • manalishi

      False. There are several non-fascist ways this could have been handled. There are constitutional ways the crime could have been handled. Our founders knew better and therefore created the fourth amendment.

      ““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.”. This spokesman just admitted to gross negligence, lack of due diligence, and a willful neglect of the law. The participants in this raid are no better than the damned drug dealer.

      • Mildred

        The police and the drug dealers appear to be vastly superior to you as human beings. You sound much more like the narcissistic sociopath than a normal and balanced concerned person.

      • manalishi

        So rather than support the rights of this toddler or his civil rights, Mildred condones the permanent damage of children to cover criminals hiding behind the thin blue line. Real police would have arrested the perp next time he left home and executed the warrant professionally.

  • Heidi

    1. “toddler’s family told WSB they have no insurance and have set up a website to collect donations for the baby’s treatment.” Since the child was injured from the negligence of the police – then the medical costs shouldn’t go the family.
    2. The family didn’t seem to have much of a choice about being there- so people need to stop blaming the parents. The report said there house burned down and they were only there temporally until new housing could be found. It’s better than staying in a shelter and they probably couldn’t afford a hotel.
    2. Inability to open a locked front door at 2 am is not a reason to throw a flash bomb in a home. Anything (and nothing) could have been against the door. We have dog beds and 2 90# dogs that sleep on them in front of ours.
    3. These police don’t even seem to be trained to deal with drug traffickers. A lot of them deliberately use children and family members as fodder. Just because there is no evidence of children for the time period an informant was there – does not mean there are no children. Police are supposed to be observant to be able to react to dangerous situations. They didn’t see a family mini van parked just outside the home? Or a porta-crib in a livingroom? They don’t own flashlights or spotlights? And the guy wasn’t even home?! They have terrible surveillance.

    • K S

      The police should pay for all medical bills w/o a doubt! I believe they should have have conducted a better surveillance. Also, didn’t the family just come to stay with this drug dealer person because their house had recently burnt?

  • Paul Pot

    And the prohibition pushers tell us we need the drug war to protect the children.
    What about the children?
    Think of the children.

Comments are closed.