How District Attorneys Use The Grand Jury To Cover Up Police Wrong Doing

Posted by Richard Lawson | Oct 07, 2014 | 4 Comments

Case in Point: The failure to indict the police officers who maimed a toddler through their criminal negligence during a drug raid.

The Face of American's War on Drugs

After a six-day investigation, the Habersham County Grand Jury has decided not to bring charges against the law enforcement officers who led the drug raid that almost killed a 19-month-old baby back in May of this year.  Habersham County Georgia Sheriff's Deputies threw a stun grenade into a home without first ascertaining if someone could be hurt.  The grenade landed in the crib of an infant.

Little Bounkham Phonesavanh, or “Bou Bou,” was injured when police threw a flash-bang grenade into his crib while serving a “no knock” warrant at a home that reportedly contained drugs and weapons.  He and his family were staying there because their home in Wisconsin had recently been destroyed by fire.  Police received information from an informant they could find drugs and guns at the house, and also said no children were currently residing there.

Obviously they were wrong: there WAS a child residing there, and police did NOT find drugs or guns during the raid.

Little Bou Bou was severely injured; his nose was detached from his face, he had severe chest injuries, and was placed in a medically induced coma.  When the media reported on the story, Habersham County Sheriff Jerry Terrell defended the officers and said there was no need for an investigation.

However, after seeing photos of the injured child, the public's anger started to grow, and eventually led to the Grand Jury's investigation.   They found the task force executed a “hurried” and “sloppy” investigation that was “not in accordance with the best practices and procedures.”   They did not, though, think that was enough to show criminal negligence.

The Grand Jury said in their report that the “zeal to hold [drug dealers] accountable must not override cautious and patient judgment.”  They apparently believe that this zeal is what could get people hurt.  “We recommend that whenever reasonably possible, suspects be arrested away from a home when doing so can be accomplished without extra risk to law enforcement and to citizens.”

But they also sympathized with the officers who were involved in the incident:  “Rather than seeing unfeeling or uncaring robots, what has not been seen before and talked or written about is that these individuals are suffering as well.  We have seen and heard genuine regret and sadness on the part of law enforcement officers involved, and we think it is fair and appropriate to point out that they are human beings as well.”

WHAT?  So the police officers feel sorry about nearly killing an innocent child.  Does that make it OK?  Almost all criminals are sorry for their crimes.  Does that mean that all is forgiven?  Would the regular, everyday citizens of Georgia be treated the same as these law enforcement officers if they committed such a crime?  I mean, if you or I, through reckless conduct, blew a child's face off, almost killing him, would we get a pass if we were remorseful?

What if I decided I needed to get to McDonald's before they stopped serving breakfast one morning at 10:25 AM, drove 100 mph, crashed my car, and “unfortunately” injured or even killed many people?  How is that different?  I like Egg McMuffins a LOT.  Could I say that my zeal to procure a delicious McDonald's breakfast sandwich before they stopped serving them made me hurt innocent people?  What if I said I was sorry, and acted very remorseful?

Of course, that would be considered reckless driving and serious injury by vehicle, but you get the point.  Shouldn't we hold our law enforcement officers and officials to the same standards, if not higher?

It is no secret that I have been extraordinarily critical of the way Sheriff Terrell and District Attorney Rickman handled this incident, and my views have not changed.  As a former prosecutor, I know how grand juries work, and this one was a joke. Every day this same sheriff arrests and this coward D.A. prosecutes people for crime far less severe than what was committed by the police officers who recklessly maimed an innocent child.

Since the news media has not covered what a grand jury is and what it does, I would like to explain a bit about them:

Prosecutors typically work with grand juries to decide if criminal charges should be levied against a possible defendant; usually for serious felonies.  Every state has a law that allows for grand juries, but maybe half of the states use them.  They are a panel of 23 people that are randomly chosen from a list of non-felons within the community.

Their closed, private meetings are a bit more informal than a court hearing, as there is no judge present.  The prosecutor (in this case, DA Rickman), explains the law and spoon-feeds the grand jury the evidence and testimony HE CHOOSES to give.  The grand jury, like any jury, can only go on and what evidence and information that is given to them.

To be clear, The Grand Jury is a tool of the District Attorney, not an independent investigatory body.  There are no investigtors that work for the Grand Jury.  Everyone involved in this investigation works for the Sheriff and the District Attorney.  When I was a prosecutor I knew before a Grand Jury presentment which cases I wanted indicted and which cases I would let the Grand Jury dismiss. (a dismissal is called a "no bill.")  The key word here is BEFORE.

In my opinion, District Attorney Rickman should have recused himself from this case from the very beginning and let the Attorney General handle any investigation.  He originally commented before any investigation that the officers acted propertly.  Instead, he is now hiding behind the grand jury.  That is why I have labeled him a coward.

To review Mr. D.A.:

O.C.G.A. 16-5-60-Reckless Conduct: a person who causes bodily harm to or endangers the bodily safety of another person by consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his act or omission will cause harm or endanger the safety of the other person and the disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in the situation is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Also, in Georgia a prosecutor does not need a Grand Jury Indictment to prosecute a misdemeanor.  The Grand Jury is only required to be used in some felony cases.  It is never used for misdemeanors unless a prosecutor wants to hide behind it like a coward.

Isn't this exactly what the drug task force did?  They threw a grenade into the crib of a baby without first even checking to see if there were children in the home. The grand jury agreed that the raid was improperly done without conscious regard to the safety and well-being of others.  Why isn't it their negligence criminal?  Because the grand jury thinks the near-fatal injuries to a small child are unfortunately the result of “well-intentioned people getting in too big a hurry, and not slowing down and taking enough time to consider the possible consequences of their actions.”

Sadly, the District Attorney and the Grand Jury, it seems, were only concerned with the remorse and humanity of the officers involved in the raid.  No one, apparently, was there to advocate on the behalf of the child that was harmed and disfigured due to the reckless conduct of the task force.  All parties were acquitted of any wrong-doing; no other voice was heard.  Thank goodness a Federal investigation is on-going, and “Bou Bou's” parents are filing a civil suit.

Why is all of this important to a Atlanta DUI Attorney?  We put our lives in the hands of police officers, and as citizens, should be able to trust their judgment.  We should be able to trust that when an officer arrests someone for DUI, they are, at least temporarily, removing someone from the streets that is a danger to themselves and others.  Those that drink and drive use poor judgment, and we put them in jail for it.  Shouldn't we be able to do the same to police when they wantonly disregard the safety of others and injure and almost kill innocent people while they are doing their jobs of fighting crime and the “war on drugs?”

This Atlanta DUI Lawyer is disgusted, and so should everyone.  I hope Federal prosecutors indict the Sheriff, his goons for the crime and the District Attorney for the cover up. That would send a correct message to everyone that no one is above the law.

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Managing Partner at Lawson & Berry:


Jennifer Esquire Reply

Posted Dec 15, 2014 at 10:19:21

Very interesting commentary on the grand jury process in Georgia.

Kurt Martin Reply

Posted Oct 17, 2015 at 14:15:28

Good article on the Grand Jury process. However, you left out another scenario: Where the prosecutor really does have the detective or arresting officer summarize ALL the key evidence both pro-prosecution and pro-defense and then tell the grand jury that it’s a borderline case and that it’s up to them whether they think it’s something the State should prosecute, even knowing that while an indictment only takes a simple majority saying they find “probable cause” the trial conviction standard will be that every juror unanimously agrees “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

But that’s only one of three options. As you explained, the other two are steering the G.J. to issue an indictment and steering them toward a No Bill.

Richard Lawson Reply

Posted Oct 18, 2015 at 08:20:28

You are completely correct Mr. Martin. Many times the fact that the DA expresses an opinion can sway the Grand Jury’s decision.

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