Drug Task Force That Burned Toddler's Face Also Killed Innocent Pastor

By McCarton Ackerman 06/04/14

The same task force that burned a 19-month-old's face with a flash grenade accidentally shot and killed a pastor in 2009.

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Georgia residents were outraged to learn that the same drug task force that accidentally disfigured a toddler with a flash grenade during a drug raid also killed an innocent pastor during a separate drug operation five years ago.

Last week in Habersham County, located just outside of Atlanta, police forcibly entered the home of drug suspect Wanis Thonetheva and threw a flash grenade inside before trying to arrest him. They were reportedly unaware that relatives with children were staying in his home as guests and the flash grenade landed directly inside a playpen. Nineteen-month old Bou Phonesavanh is now in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Atlanta with severe facial injuries.

In September 2009, pastor Jonathan Ayers was killed by the same task force while counseling a woman who had just sold cocaine to undercover officers. After attempting to give her money to cover rent, police ambushed the vehicle he was sitting in, despite there being no evidence he had anything illegal inside or was using at the time. Ayers tried to pull away, thinking he was being robbed, and police eventually opened fire. Ayers was eventually declared innocent and a federal jury awarded a $2 million settlement to his widow, Abigail.

Abigail later launched her own investigation and found that Billy Shane Harrison, the cop who shot Ayers, had no training in the use of lethal force and wasn’t authorized to either carry a gun or make arrests. She also alleged in a lawsuit that Harrison had a history of disciplinary problems that included the use of illicit drugs.

Meanwhile, Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell told reporters that District Attorney Brian Rickman had already cleared the task force of any wrongdoing in the burning of Phonesavanh.

“The person I blame in this whole thing is the person selling the drugs,” said Terrell. “Wanis Thonetheva, that’s the person I blame in all this. They are no better than a domestic terrorist, because they don’t care about families – they didn’t care about the family, the children living in that household – to be selling dope out of it, to be selling methamphetamine out of it. All they care about is making money.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.