published Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Raid revives debate in Georgia over 'no-knock' warrants

Emma Phonesavanh, left, the sister of 19-month-old Bounkham Phonesavanh who was severely burned by a flash grenade during a SWAT drug raid, cries as she is embraced by her mother Alecia Phonesavanh while attending a vigil outside Grady Memorial Hospital where he was undergoing treatment on June 2, 2014, in Atlanta.
Emma Phonesavanh, left, the sister of 19-month-old Bounkham Phonesavanh who was severely burned by a flash grenade during a SWAT drug raid, cries as she is embraced by her mother Alecia Phonesavanh while attending a vigil outside Grady Memorial Hospital where he was undergoing treatment on June 2, 2014, in Atlanta.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal said Thursday he's open to discussing whether legislative changes are necessary regarding "no-knock" warrants, but wants to see first the results of an investigation into a recent case involving a Georgia toddler hurt in a police raid.

The debate over "no-knock" warrants is not new. There was a bipartisan effort by lawmakers in 2007 to tighten rules for such warrants, which are intended to protect officers from dangerous suspects while preventing evidence tampering. The effort, which failed, was prompted by a 2006 case in which an elderly Atlanta woman was killed in a shootout with police while they were executing a "no-knock" warrant at her home.

"It would be one of those things that I would be open to if there is sufficient evidence to indicate that it needs to be revisited and more appropriate standards and requirements put in place," Deal said, adding he would want to make sure the law enforcement community was involved in any discussion on the issue.

Deal also said it might be something he refers to his Criminal Justice Reform Council for review, but cautioned he wants to hear the results of an investigation into the May 28 police raid in which 19-month-old Bounkham Phonesavanh was severely injured by a flash grenade that landed in his playpen at home in Cornelia. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into the case, and the boy's family has asked for a federal probe.

"Sometimes legislative bodies react too quickly without looking at the broader consequences of what legislative action might be," Deal said. "But on the same token, if the standards and the requirements are not appropriate then they should be adjusted accordingly."

Authorities in Habersham County, where the raid occurred, have said officers were looking for a suspect who may have been armed and didn't know children were inside. The device creates a bright flash and loud bang to distract suspects.

Deal's Democratic challenger, state Sen. Jason Carter of Atlanta, said in a statement the dangers of "no-knock" warrants have been known and reiterated his support for limiting such warrants.

"This incident in Cornelia is a heartbreaking example of what can happen, and we need to do everything we can to prevent anything like it from happening again," Carter said.

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