FBI: Former deputy sheriff deliberately lied to obtain search warrant
SWAT members executing false warrant threw flash-bang grenade that critically injured toddler
Former deputy sheriff's attorney: "She is being made the lone target"
A former Habersham County, Georgia, deputy sheriff’s false statements to a judge last year set in motion a chain of events that led to the critical injury of a toddler, according to a federal indictment filed Wednesday in district court.
In May 2014, Nikki Autry and a team of special agents and informants from the local Narcotics Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team were “attempting undercover narcotics buys.” Autry presented an affidavit to a magistrate judge falsely swearing that a “true and reliable informant” had bought a small amount of methamphetamine at a residence.
Based on the erroneous information she presented, which also included claims of “heavy traffic in and out of the residence,” the judge issued Autry a “no knock” search warrant.
When a SWAT team executing that warrant found the front door blocked, one of the officers tossed a flash-bang grenade inside the residence. Once inside the home, the SWAT team realized a portable playpen had been blocking the door, and the flash-bang grenade had landed where a 19-month-old was sleeping, eventually exploding on the child’s pillow.
The toddler spent weeks in a burn unit in a medically induced coma.
After the 2014 incident, Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell said that had his officers known there were children inside the home, they would have conducted the raid differently.
“We might have gone in through a side door. … We would not have used a flash-bang,” Terrell said.
The federal indictment concludes the raid should not have happened.
“Without her false statements, there was no probable cause to search the premises for drugs or to make the arrests,” acting U.S. Attorney John Horn said in a release.
“In this case,” he said, “the consequences of the unlawful search were tragic.”
According to the indictment, Autry is charged with four counts of civil rights violations for “willfully depriving the occupants of the residence of their right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Autry is also charged with depriving the man suspected of selling drugs, Wanis Thonetheva, of “his right to be free from arrest without probable cause.”
Thonetheva was the suspect SWAT members were seeking when they went into the home. He was not there at the time, but was later arrested at a nearby residence and charged with distribution of methamphetamine, though it’s unclear whether those charges will be thrown out in light of Wednesday’s indictment.
The Habersham County Sheriff’s Office has not responded to CNN’s request for comment.
In October, a state grand jury called the drug investigation “hurried” and “sloppy,” but found no criminal intent by any of the officers involved and declined to return any indictments. Autry resigned after the grand jury findings were released.
Autry’s attorney said the federal government is ignoring the grand jury’s findings and said his client is not to blame for the toddler’s injuries.
“[Autry] is being made the lone target for the poorly designed and implemented search and seizure policies of her prior department and a since disbanded drug task force,” Jeff Brickman said in a statement.
Autry has not been arrested, Brickman said, but is expected to be arraigned next week.
CNN’s Eliott McLaughlin contributed to this report