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by Peter Moskos

June 27, 2014

"Just the world we live in"

A stun grenade exploded in a baby’s face. According to the BBC:
The Swat officers had used a stun grenade, called a flash bang, as they entered the residence. The device, which creates bright bursts of light and noise to temporarily disorient its targets, landed in 19-month-old Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh's playpen, where it burned the child's face and created a gash on his chest deep enough to expose his ribs.
OK. I mean it may be standard to use SWAT teams and flash grenades, but that isn't supposed to happen. But mistakes do happen. So I bet the chief is pretty apologetic.

But not in Habersham County, Georgia. According to Sheriff Joey Terrell:
Our team went by the book. Given the same scenario, we'll do the same thing again. I stand behind what our team did.... Bad things can happen. That's just the world we live in. Bad things happen to good people.... The baby didn't deserve this.
I'm sorry, but that's not good enough.

I mean look, I know this is just another example of our idiotic war on ourselves, I mean drugs. That's nothing new. And bad things do happen to good people. But that doesn't mean bad things should happen to good people at the hands of police. And when they do, as they inevitably will sometimes, you say you're sorry, figure out what you did wrong so it doesn't happen again, and probably shell out some dough to the victim.

When "the book" results in innocent babies being maimed by police, then rewrite the fucking book, you brainless fool! What you don't do is say no mistakes were made, and you would do the same thing again. See, if you did the same thing again in the same situation, then the same thing would happen again. And if you're OK with that, then you're a dick.

From the BBC:
Meanwhile, Bou Bou Phonesavanh is no longer in a coma, but he is still undergoing hospital-based rehabilitation. His long-term prognosis has yet to be determined.

Wanis Thonetheva, the original target of the raid, was eventually located and arrested for drug possession. As the Guardian's Pilkington notes, police officers knocked on his door, and he went with them without resistance.
That's worth repeating: "Police officers knocked on his door, and he went with them without resistance." Wow, so you mean the whole SWAT team / flash-grenade thing was unnecessary? Why... yes.

Anyhow... with Thonetheva off the streets, I'm sure it must now be impossible to get meth in Habersham County.

Update: It's worth noting, and it's taken me a while to realize this, that this is the same jurisdiction and sheriff that were involved with the killing of innocent Rev. Jonathan Ayers in 2009. It's amazing to me that such multiple instances of gross incompetence in law enforcement could come out of the same small place.


David Woycechowsky said...

while the background facts are somewhat different, I found this press conference to be even more shocking, calloused, unapologetic, heartless, tone-deaf, etc. way:


BG said...

Habersham is extremely rural. Lots of meth production there. If you saw the series "Band of Brothers", that is the place where they trained the airborne for WWII. Not surprised that they aren't backing off at all.

hotrod said...

DISCLAIMERS\BACKGROUND - I am not a cop/peace officer. I am not an attorney. I have had some aspects of law enforcement training. I have worked in a job that involved carrying a gun while being scared. I am not involved in this case.

Habersham County Sheriff's Office was the agency that was, in my opinion, largely responsible for the Jonathan Ayers shooting. The only guy actually tagged with civil liability was a Stephens County deputy (UPDATE on the last time HCSO helped make the world a better place - http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/section/6/article/100972/ ) , but the late Kyle Bryant, the task force commander and driver of the task force vehicle, was Habersham, as was Chance Oxner, the guy who ran up behind Ayers' vehicle.

I'm going to jump around on this a bit. I think Peter and I are largely in agreement so, in large part, I'm just venting.

Even though I generally favor some form of drug de-criminalization, you don't have to agree with me to desire and demand reasonably tactically competent and reasonably well-led and managed law enforcement. Demanding even marginally competent cops doesn't mean "backing off" in BG's words.

There are lots of signs at this point Habersham doesn't have that.

There are different stories as to whether the single possession-level buy was by a confidential informant or by an undercover agent. Bureacracy and processes being what they are, the actual truth is probably more complicated, but if, hypothetically speaking, a single police supervisor made a deliberate decision to hit a house with a SWAT team at 0300-ish the morning following a single possession level buy by a single confidential informant, then that police officer shouldn't be a supervisor anymore, shouldn't be a cop anymore and, although this won't happen for a variety of reasons, should probably do a small amount of time in jail.

If it was an undercover buy in lieu of (ILO) a CI, then we're moving out of the "cops need to go to jail" territory. But why wasn't there a better idea about what was going on in that house? There are actually a number of potential reasons, mostly related to the comings and goings of household members and the general complexity of anything involving human behavior. That said, those points just reiterate the point - you don't hit a house in the middle of the night with a SWAT team over a single possession level buy.

Anyone who thinks it is a good idea to hit a house in the middle of the night with a SWAT team over a single possession level buy is too stupid to be a cop, much less a supervisor.
What probably happened was probably more complex. It will probably be some variation of - “NCIS” executed a buy, though whatever mechanism. They’re bad-a*&es and they need metrics, so they get a warrant RIGHT AWAY. NCIS (BTW, great name, there, heroes) is a joint Byrnes grant baby. No one REALLY owns the decisions. They had a report that he was running around with an AK-47 (never entered into evidence, then or now, but hey, benefit of the doubt for the heroes of north-Georgia). Automatically escalated, no one owns the call out. There is some sort of half-*&^ed MOU\MOA for a joint SWAT team. No one owns the responsibility to raise their hand and say, “everyone chill the *&^% out, lets take another look at this”. No one owns the responsibility to say, “stand down, we’re going to approach this a different way”.

hotrod said...

News flash – PROPERLY conducted house clearing operations are extremely labor and resource intensive. Generally speaking, much more so than increased surveillance and executing warrants in the street\or other open spaces. Another news flash – everyone hates management, and cops &^%ch about it, but – this is what can happen when it ain’t there.

We’re moving towards things that I’m less qualified to speak about, but room clearing\house clearing\MOUT\etc etc are all much easier to THINK you’re really good at than to actually be really good at. It looks easy – it’s not. We will almost certainly find out this was a very weak SWAT team. Weak or not – they executed the warrant less than a day after the buy. That all but guarantees no additional surveillance and crappy planning. I have no info as to how these guys are resourced and trained. I have had reserve Soldiers\civilian cops tell me that the small agency SWATs can be shockingly unprepared\untrained. You can take that for however much you feel like it’s worth, but these geniuses appear to have thrown an unobserved flashbang, so, hey, there’s that.

Over the next year or two, you're going to hear a lot about lessons learned and refining processess. Let me address that now - if you didn't know BEFORE all of this that hitting a house in the middle of the night with a SWAT team over a single possession level buy was a terrible idea, then you are simply far too stupid and\or untrained to have any business being a cop.
Over the next few months, and, in fact, already, you are going to hear about what a good and God-ly man Sheriff Terrell is. I am a badly flawed (I deleted most of the profanity in this post from my first draft), but believing and observant Christian. I am utterly appalled by the suggesstion that religious faith of any sort should excuse this level of buffoonery. Side note – a lot of the people commenting on that topic weren’t as apparent to me (and Peter know where I am on the Ayers’ issue) when Jonathan Ayers was killed.

This appears to be a shocking amount of incompetence from the same agency that contributed to the Ayers’ shooting. No one involved in the Ayers' shooting was competent on that day.
Lastly - I hope without optimisim that someone from north Georgia and, ideally, HCSO has the chance to read this. To the limits of my self-awareness, I’m not a cop hater. A great cop is an incredible contributer to a community. Moreover, I’m shocked by the amount of hatred a cop hater can throw towards cops. In fact, sometime, I think it contributes to cops’ skins getting TOO thick. HCSO deputies need to not just hear this but feel it. So here you go –

“Your rat-*&^$ of an law enforcement agency is screwing up in ways that not only preventable but, ultimately, make the world a profoundly worse place. Jonathan Ayers was needlessly killed because of the tactical incompetence and\or failure to lead of HCSO deputies. That got semi-whitewashed. Now this. This 19-month child was starting out behind in life. Now, despite the great deal of what is ultimately tax payer money that is coming his way, he is further behind still, even assuming his recovery continues. If you don’t see how this could have been prevented, then you need to find another line of work. If you do see it, then you need to summon up the moral courage (and I know it’s hard) to demand more from your bosses. If a deputy can’t handle that, or they simply hide behind the adulation of badge-lickers and tune out those who present even the slightest challenge – then that deputy is an utter disgrace. Whenever this sort of thing happens, you hear about how things are fixed behind the scenes. Well, first Ayers, now this. One problem is a mistake. Multiple problems at this level in that small of an agency is a pack of *&^%-ups. Look hard in the mirror, there, heroes.”

Anonymous said...

I seem to be a little slow, but seriously, only right now do I realize that Habersham County is the SAME FRIGGIN' PLACE where Jonathan Ayers was killed by incompetent law enforcement back in 2009.

I had no idea. My knowledge of Georgia extends nowhere past the train to Savannah.

What are the odds that one little jurisdiction could -- at least twice -- shock my consciousness with their policing incompetence and moral failure. Un-fucking-believable.

hotrod said...

Habersham is in the northeast corner of the state, right on the South Carolina border. It's about an hour and a half from Atlanta, though I suspect they get alot of their services from Anderson, SC and Athens, GA. To the best of my knowledge, I've never been there, though I've spent enough time in north Georgia to have rolled through there without realizing it.

These certainly aren't places I would want to live, but that is almost entirely about prefences/aesthetics/culture that I can't quantify - I like south Georgia fine and love LA (lower Alabama)

Both Habersham and Stephens are very rural. I don't think they even have an Interstate in either county. These places certainly aren't wealthy, though they're also typically not soul-crushing enclaves of extreme poverty.

As for what's gone wrong there - who knows? It's human nature to look for simple answers, but it's likely to be some combination of mediocre training, poor leadership, poor judgement and, very importantly, simply "not knowing what right looks like".

It's important to note that, although the media hasn't picked up on it that much, their multi-agency Byrnes grant funded task force, the Mounain Judicial Circuit NCIS, was prominently involved in both incidents. Terrell seems to have pinned the request for a no-knock warrant on one of their agents, though you're getting into things you may never fully sort out, particularly if the agencies involved are in ^&*-covering mode. Moreover, Terrell's statement came VERY soon after the incident ( http://www.accessnorthga.com/detail.php?n=275516 ) which is dangerous even when you're on your game. You'll have a cop's name on the application, of course, but you may never pull apart the decision making "process" as it actually existed on the ground.

There's a new commander of that unit since Kyle Bryant passed - Murray Kogod, the former Stephens County Deputy Sheriff, replaced Bryant, though someone would need to confirm that he's still got it.


Sheriff Shirley said that Kogod was going "to take this drug unit to the next level". I wonder if they're there yet.

Anonymous said...

So a Preacher (Holy Man) in the car with a prostitute, who in fact stated they were having sex, is "innocent". The twisted world people on this site and post live in will be the ruination of the society. Ayers died doing what he was NOT suppose to be doing. He got caught. Bible says, "What's done in the dark, shall come to the light." He died lit up. People these days if you do not know what is going on SHUT UP! Yall are clueless.

hotrod said...

It'll be interesting to see what details come out of this (if any), but for now, there seems to at least a little change.


PCM said...

I believe the task force is being disbanding because they have totally cleared Habersham County of drugs. Job well done and mission accomplished.

hotrod said...

No commentary for now, but the Habersham Sheriff Terrell noted on this thread was shot and wounded, along with one of his deputies, by a former Habersham deputy in an apparent triple homicide. Apparently, neither of the cops' wounds are serious.


Peter Moskos said...

The magic never stops from this county! Are they really the most fucked-up police department in the world?

Thanks for the update.

hotrod said...

Detailed write up by The NY Times on the raid mentioned in this post, I.e. the one where a small child had, roughly speaking, a decent portion of his face blown off by a flash bang (distraction device if you prefer).


Various points -

-The drug unit (the same one that killed Jonathan Ayers) had a single possession level buy by a confidential informant at around 2230. They then drew on their vast stores of knowledge, common sense and all around tactical competence and did the only thing they reasonably could - wake a magistrate and get a no-knock warrant at around 0015 (less than two hours later)

-The local SWAT/SRT/(any other cool guy acronym) then hit the house at around 0215. If you're sitting there and thinking something like "wow, that's not a lot of time for follow-up surveillance, briefings and rehearsals, particularly for something not involving something like a hostage or active shooter", well, you're way off base. As with any and all matters involving American police, if you weren't there, you don't get to have an opinion. If you still have a concern after reading this admonition, well, it's probably because you hate cops.

-The SWAT/SRT/whatever was drawn from two small agencies (Habersham Sheriff and Cornelia PD) serving a county of 42000 people. If you're thinking something like "wow, that's a pretty thin base to draw from to build a truly competent advanced unit", well, you just don't understand. You're, at best, ignorant, but it's more likely that you're actually stupid. If you're wondering whether or not some cops (and their leadership) sometimes like doing cool &$)@ that they're not really qualified or trained for, then you probably hate cops.

Less sarcastically, but still factually -

-Joey Terrell was apparently involved in the decision making process on this one. He's still Sheriff.

-Brian Rickman, who I assume (I don't know the ins and outs of Byrnes grants) passed on an opportunity to pull the plug on that drug unit following the Ayers shooting, is now a Judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals. I guess that's why he was so anxious to respond to you, Peter, during the run up to his nomination.

-Murray Kogod was the Chief Deputy of Stephens County when Billy Shane Harrison wasn't getting his hours. He was commander of this drug unit and, according to the article, involved in the warrant application. He was a Habersham Sheriff captain for a whilefollowing the raid, then out of law enforcement for a bit. Don't worry though - he's got a badge back. Per both his LinkedIn and the Habersham Sheriff website, he's now back at HCSO as a patrol deputy.

Back to sarcasm -

-The Phonesavanh family got paid a lot of money. They say it's mostly gone. They're probably lying, because they're disagreeing with cops. Also, injuries and damage caused by bad policing isnt actually expensive. Cops can explain that to you, since most cops, particularly those in small town Georgia, have a tremendous breadth of life experience,

-Even if a lot of money had to be paid out, it doesn't matter, because money paid by insurance companies is "magic money" that doesn't actually exist or matter once it's gone.

-Georgia is awesome. Govenance, politics, law enforcement - all of it.