But The Warrant Seemed So Legit

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.

9 thoughts on “But The Warrant Seemed So Legit

  1. Bartleby the Scrivener

    If I were Nikki Autry, I’d be the biggest stool pigeon in all of creation and would tell the every media outlet who would talk to me of every single dirty warrant I’d ever heard of, and would tell them that I was explicitly trained to do exactly what I did (if I was in fact trained to do so).

    If you’re going to buried in lemons, you might as well open up a lemonade stand and share the wealth.

  2. Jake DiMare

    The world can not possibly pile enough shame on the players in this tragic, ridiculous story of over-zealously applied incompetence. Thanks for dedicating some more time to it. Genuinely.

  3. DHMCarver

    “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.” – These lines brought to mind the discussions of what are effectively pro forma warrants in Balko’s “Rise of the Warrior Cop” (see esp. pp. 183-86)

  4. Wrongway

    “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.”

    I hope that’s not the only lesson though you may be right.
    The thing is others had to know about this lie & the actions taken because of it.
    Tell a lie & ya get indicted.. but throw a bomb thru a door & no big deal..
    I’m at least thankful there was (at least in this case) an investigation over & above the state’s cursory glance at this instance.

  5. Hal

    I think “protecting mom and apple pie as best then can” should read “protecting mom and apple pie as best they can”.

    Other than that, thanks for keeping the heat on w/ rgd to this abuse of authority. I dislike the “think of the children” tactic sometimes used to pass new and unnecessary laws, but in this instance it makes the case especially compelling.

    1. SHG Post author

      Thanks for the typo. As for the “do it for the children,” you’re right that I’m milking the Baby Bou Bou appeal, as it is really no different at all who was in the home, and the problem is every bit as real if there were only adults inside rather than a toddler.

      What the Baby Bou Bou piece does is remove any suspicion that the toddler could be guilty, somehow bringing any harm upon himself. No matter how vapid the warrant, many will speculate that the residents somehow must have brought this on themselves. That can’t be said of a baby.

  6. Jodi Pickup

    There is a website called “Who’s a rat.com” & people are allowed to name snitches, which agency they rat to, and put the finger on undercover cops. You must leave your email address & be ballsy enough to do it because your address will show on the rat’s profile you enter. This is a serious website, not one where you can just list anyone as a rat just because you’re mad at them. It lists all 50states. More people need to know about it & check it out, maybe profile someone who needs to be on the website. You never know!?!?

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