In May 2014, a stun grenade was deployed during the execution of a no-knock warrant in Habersham County based on testimony of a deputy sheriff stating drugs were in the home. In an unexpected turn of events, the grenade landed in the playpen of 19-month-old Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh who suffered severe injuries to his face and chest – and possible brain damage. He was hospitalized for weeks and the family incurred thousands of dollars in medical bills. No drugs were ever found in the home.
The story plastered headlines for months as the public outrage fueled over the legality of no-knock warrants and the quality of information provided to execute them. In the Habersham case, it was discovered that statements made by a deputy sheriff involved were false, hence the lack of drugs found in the home. The parents of Bou Bou were ultimately awarded a $1.65 million settlement and federal charges were brought against one of the officers.
Interestingly, no-knock warrants are not currently codified under Georgia law. On that same note, no-knock warrants are not prohibited under Georgia law either. The only language pertaining to warrants requires “verbal announcement” per OCGA 17-5-27. Currently, no-knock practices are used at the discretion of the Sheriff, District Attorney or police chief.
Enter Senator Vincent Fort with “Bou Bou’s Law.”
The professor and Deputy Whip of the Democrat Caucus filed Senate Bill 94 last week to add provisions to Georgia code outlining parameters of no-knock warrants.
A few of the key points:
- Defines “no-knock warrant” as an executing officer entering without giving audible verbal notice of officer’s presence, authority, and purpose.
- Permits no-knock warrants to be issued under the same guidelines of a typical search warrant, HOWEVER…
- Stipulates that no-knock warrant without an affidavit or testimony determining probable cause for the no-knock that places both law enforcement and persons in the home in danger
The legislation further outlines standard search warrants and explicitly states that officers serving warrants without “no knock” terms MUST audibly announce their presence during execution of such a warrant.
No knock warrants have been at the helm of controversy for the last two legislative session and even managed to wiggle into a Congressional campaign in the summer of 2016. The indictment of the officer in Bou Bou’s case was out of the ordinary as immunity is generally granted in similar cases.
The bill has been assigned to the Judiciary Committee for consideration.