The story of Baby Bou Bou, the toddler nearly killed when a flashbang grenade was tossed into his crib as he lay sleeping, as a SWAT team stormed a home upon a no-knock night-time warrant granted by a neutral magistrate, a guardian of the Constitution, has become legend.
The failings of this raid, from the tinest bit of investigation to ascertain whether there was a baby to be maimed during their dynamic entrance to its very necessity, are outlined at length by Radley Balko in a post amusingly called “Lessons from the drug raid that burned a Georgia toddler.”
I say “amusingly” because we all know there will be no lessons learned. Except, maybe, avoid drawing the short straw and having to be the cop signing off on the warrant application.
Last week, federal prosecutors announced that former Georgia deputy Nikki Autry would be indicted on charges of making false statements to a judge in order to obtain a warrant to raid a home in Habersham County.
Sheriff Joey Terrell said the warrant was cool. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation found no problem with the warrant. Autry was so close. So very close. After all, the allegations in the warrant were more than sufficient to justify the actions taken by the SWAT team:
A confidential informant was sent to the residence on Tuesday to make a buy for methamphetamine, Terrell said. At the time of the purchase, there were two Mercedes SUVs parked in the driveway, with a guard standing at the front door and the back door. The informant did not enter the home and made the alleged purchase in the doorway, the sheriff said.
“It was really uncomfortable, and really intimidating. The informant made the purchase and left the residence,” Terrell said. “He didn’t see anything to indicate that there was a child in the house.”
A tragic mistake, and perhaps they should have done some additional investigation in an excess of caution despite there being nothing to suggest there was a toddler in the line of fire, but hey, can you blame them for going in hard when this drug den was so potentially violent that it even had a guard at the door?
According to federal prosecutors, none of these things were true. There either was no informant or Autry lied about what the informant said. There was no guard. There was no drug buy in the doorway.
The system relies on one foundational belief: the allegations in the warrant aren’t total bullshit. There are indicia, such as specific details that distinguish one warrant from another, so that it’s not just a fill in the blanks application. This sucker had it. It had details. It had allegations of probable cause, and more. It had a friggin’ guard at the door, more than enough to tell the issuing judge that this one needed a SWAT team going in ready to fight.
Except it wasn’t true.
There are questions that only Autry, or another member of the team, can answer. Was this Autry lying or the snitch lying? Remember, snitches lie sometimes. And by sometimes, I mean a lot. Not always a complete lie, and there may well be elements of truth surrounded by puffery that makes their story more enticing to the cops, makes their involvement more important. Remember, snitches are either working off their own cases or trying to make a buck to score. The incentives for snitches to embellish are not just strong, but overwhelming.
Usually, no one cares. If the SWAT team catches bad dudes with drugs, hooray. If the warrant said the dealer was a 25-year-old guy and it turned out to be a 97-year-old woman, so what? They got a criminal, and the details are forgotten after the first round of post-raid celebratory beers.
And if it all turns out to be crap, and the raid bears no fruit, so what? After all, you can only do what the evidence dictates. That’s the nature of law enforcement, protecting mom and apple pie as best they can.
Unless it’s all a lie.
Had it not been for the incredibly unfortunate fact that the flashbang grenade landed in Baby Bou Bou’s crib, there isn’t a chance in hell that anyone, ever, would have reached the conclusion that the allegations in the search warrant application were lies. And poor Nikki Autry will be hung out to dry for doing what she thought she was supposed to do.
There is no magic way for the judge who signed off on the warrant to know that its contents were false. It said the right words, so it got signed. A good day’s work. Maybe even Autry had no idea that her snitch was lying through his teeth to her, and she was only too willing to take his word for it.
But the use of snitches to provide information to obtain drug warrants is not just sound policing, but all there is these days. Turn a snitch, and it all flows from there. Easy, safe and effective policing. So one time a toddler gets maimed? Stercus accidit. This won’t undo the most effective means of drug interdiction ever.
So what’s the lesson to be learned from the drug raid that burned a Georgia toddler? Don’t be the officer who signs the warrant application.