Just a Bou Bou

Column by Tim Hartnett.

Exclusive to STR

How would you feel after almost burning a 19 month old baby’s face off? Can we cross heroic off the list of emotions? A Habersham County, Georgia SWAT team tossed a stun grenade into the playpen of sleeping toddler Bou Bou Phonesavanh at 3 A.M. on May 28th. The ordnance exploded inches from his face. So far the child’s medical expenses approach $1 million. If the responsible parties spent the rest of their lives without living down the guilt, should we care? None of them faced a credible threat of any kind during the attack. The grenade was thrown with the shoot-first-ask-questions-later abandon of Maxwell Smart.

A grand jury that investigated the incident found it appropriate to consider the feelings of the culprits. They wrote:
“We have also seen and heard the very real sadness, regret and anguish in law enforcement officers who were involved in these events, and we wish to extend our sympathy [emphasis added] also to the law enforcement officers involved.”

The poor guys on the SWAT team had proceeded on what has widely been characterized as “bad information.” So, you see, they were victims too. And, as if they hadn’t suffered enough, one of them was later transferred out of the smash and bang unit. What kind of a country would have indicted or fired any of them?

There is no evidence anybody bothered looking into details of who was inhabiting the home at the time of the raid. All they did know is that Bou Bou’s cousin, Wanis Thonotheva, had sold $50 worth of meth to an informant in the driveway of the house the boy’s family was visiting. That was days before the incident. The suspect wasn’t there at the time of the attack because he lived elsewhere. Any amateur could have established this fact through simple surveillance. If they wanted him bad enough to resort to SWAT, the common courtesy to see him enter the dwelling is not asking much.

Habersham County officials have since refused to cover the infant’s hospital bill. So far the men responsible for the injuries, who feel so awful, have not jumped on the bandwagon petitioning the county to pony up. Questioning the fiscal decisions of the county board can jeopardize a municipal servant’s career. Any “career” that isn’t in peril after maiming a one year old for life leaves its owner with much to be loyal about. Habersham’s finest killed a young pastor as well in highly controversial circumstances five years earlier. Nobody got fired or charged for that one, either.

There’s no point going through the lengthy litany of soul-crushing anecdotes and stats describing the police state. The case above contains the necessary elements to illustrate exactly what’s awry. The overwhelming evidence is in and the jury continually fails to convict. What became of a nation that was invented confronting arbitrary authority and unreasonable force? Armed agents of government have been elevated to an ennobled class that the commonality has been conditioned to obey and accept brutalization from. Cops routinely seize or destroy private property at their own discretion, shoot and kill innocent people, assault without just cause, interrupt daily lives over trifles and enforce the law on a highly selective basis.

In those rare instances they are found guilty of criminal acts on duty, penalties are rarely severe. On July 13, 2012, Texas State Trooper David Farrell pulled over Angel and Ashley Dobbs for discarding a cigarette butt on Hwy. 161. Department of Public Safety Officer Kelley Helleson was summoned to the scene because Farrell thought the two women were “acting weird.” Helleson found this legitimate justification to put on a latex glove and examine the ladies' body cavities. Now who is defining “weird,” exactly? Helleson lost her job and was later sentenced to a one year suspended sentence, probation and two $1,000 fines.

“You really want your pound of flesh, don’t you?” Bob Baskett, Helleson’s attorney, asked Angel Dobbs, who was upset sexual assault charges were dropped in a plea agreement. The ex-trooper’s image is featured in the news coverage looking sullen and victimized by her ordeal. Who can even begin to imagine the motives and emotions of anyone choosing the ex-cop’s course of action? She clearly feels the Dobbs overreacted and were entirely too possessive of their precious hind quarters.

Why shouldn’t a heavily armed dragoon representing the state of Texas be allowed to pull people’s pants down and finger deep? The peasant girls failed to behave in accordance with a police expert’s expectations of propriety, after all. This is not likely to be the last case where a serf signed over the title to himself for failing to meet police specs of a natural demeanor.

The belief that law enforcement authorities have any special powers to detect suspicious behavior has never been substantiated by scientific examination. The enormous leeway they’ve been granted by court after court to disrupt powerless individuals’ lives is enough to frighten any rational citizen out of her wits. Haven’t we reached the point where not acting weird in the presence of a class that’s been ceded absolute say so over our momentary fate is, in itself, suspicious? An experienced sociopath, on the other hand, could be expected to deal deftly with his kinfolk.

The mass media rarely, if ever, chooses to dramatize the grisly details of carte blanche law enforcement. Wouldn’t potatoes on the couch with clickers be more interested in Sal Culosi’s execution than the maudlin driveling and fantasy of “Flashpoint”? Culosi was an optometrist who bet on football games at his local bar. Fairfax police detective David Baucom overheard a conversation at the joint one day and launched an undercover operation.

The relentless public protector must have missed “The Bazaar”. That’s the Andy Griffith episode where Barney’s successor, Warren, busts Aunt Bea and co-conspirators for bingo at a church function. It is easily the funniest post-Fife show in the series. The one thing our fearless lawmen aren’t afraid of is being laughed at. If the SWAT modus operandi continues at the present pace, it is an absolute certainty that churches will soon be getting stormed if they haven’t already. Devout people have relatives, friends, housemates and business partners who dabble in vice and attract police attention. It’s clear by now that a notion like sanctity can’t stand in the way of the constabulary’s inalienable right to crash and burn. The clergy has no more capability to exercise complete control over what takes place in their parking space than anyone else. That makes them legitimate prey.

Culosi was shot dead when SWAT officer Deval Bullock pounced on the bettor, gun drawn. The piece went off inexplicably, Barney style, but instead of Bullock’s foot, the round struck the eye-man fatally. Why was it necessary to wield a weapon of any kind against an unarmed, barefoot doctor in his own driveway? Did they expect him go down in a blaze of glory rather than face the scandal of gridiron gaming? The AMA wasn’t going to put his practice in the dock over a pastime that goes on in roughly every bar I’ve ever been in.

So, instead of watching in awe as heinous authoritarian events continue, we need to take a hard look into what inspires tax-funded, anti-social acts. Accredited academia hasn’t started doling out master’s degrees in the science of Police Pathology yet. That dark study will never be as lucrative to the education industry as Homeland Security. If the two fields of inquiry co-existed in the curriculum, they’d likely find themselves arriving at radically opposed conclusions. In hotly contested scholastic disputes, the professoriate always impartially defers to funds over facts.

Television isn’t helping. Click on at any hour and the idealized exploits of publicly employed heroes are dramatized on the small screen. The community they serve generally comes off as craven, uncooperative, apathetic, mean, perverse and greedy. This explains why they never signed up for a badge and gun. An obsessive concern for everyone else’s welfare is the only motive TV crime drama writers know of for joining the force. On those rare occasions any blue excess takes place, you can bet plenty the audience is in on it. The news that policing is a massive industry with major pull in state capitals and in Washington, DC is about as welcome as cesspool overflow.

We really don’t need to get touchy, feely and Freudian to understand exactly why incidents like these keep happening. Officers exceed any bounds of rational and humane behavior because they want to. This prevails over all other contributing factors combined. There is no other way to account for these kinds of discretionary options. Subjugating the populace is an end in itself. Spend an hour on Youtube watching police video and putting Homer’s words, “I finally found a way to combine my love of helping people with my love of hurting people,” into the mouths of patrolmen doesn’t feel a bit like exaggeration.

Without external pressure, meaning the penitentiary, common and unconnected citizens will continue to be preyed upon with impunity. Other cops, federal agents, judges, journalists, gazillionaires, politicians and people with clout are somehow never the ones to get crushed like bugs when SWAT comes down. The story that miscalculation, oversight or miscommunication is the problem doesn’t fly.

Cops like to believe civilians are a lesser breed that can’t survive without their protection and droving around. It’s only ingrates bitching about rights. You never get the wolf without stepping on a few sheep. Anyone aiming at being a hero thrives on threats whether real, imagined or invented. And, as the Dobbs found out, they’ll go digging for them in the strangest places.

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Tim Hartnett's picture
Columns on STR: 20


Paul's picture

"Without external pressure, meaning the penitentiary, common and unconnected citizens will continue to be preyed upon with impunity."

Well, either that, or just respond to the attacks in kind. I suspect it will end when the economy crashes and people become tired of being preyed on.

Samarami's picture

Once one sets out to make sense out of monopoly state lunatics, she has succumbed to the insanity that brought it all about in the first place.

Abstain from beans, my friends. That might appear to be a small step. But it is a step. Sam

Mark Davis's picture

Paul, I wonder when people will start fighting back?  When they decide that they have nothing to lose because the cops are already so heavy handed, I suppose.

Glock27's picture

"Acted on wrong information". Most raids I presume are warrant collected via un-vetted caller is who unknown. At a conjecture, I'll guess at least 80% plus.
"Jury fails to convict". Well I'll be damned. My ongoing question is shouldn't the judge be the one held liable? He is the one signing the warrant. Since there is no evidence that the current tyrannies are going away anytime soon, I must concede that all LEO's undergo intensive psychological evaluations, and each enforcement agency develop and implement an accountability training which would be ongoing. Will that really solve the problem?
"Television isn't helping..." I would like to join in here and say it is, because I think maybe LEO's are watching Jack Bauer and imitating, filling out their fantasies. How many here have, in their very youthful state played "cops and robbers". I am guessing most of us actually wanted the cop role?
Fighting back doesn't appear to be a safe method, given that the DOD has been, for years doling out armored cars, bayonets and etc. Enforcement agencies are becoming heavily armed. Who wants to see a tank rolling down their driveway?