Drug task force that burned a toddler this week also killed innocent pastor in 2009 http://m.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/05/30/drug-task-force-that-burned-a-toddler-this-week-also-killed-an-innocent-pastor-in-2009/ The Watch Drug task force that burned a toddler this week also killed an innocent pastor in 2009 More BY RADLEY BALKO May 30 Alecia Phonesavanh covers her face as she talks about an incident in which her son was critically injured when a police device was tossed into his bed in Habersham County by a SWAT team. (John Spink/Associated Press) After Georgiaâ€™s Mountain Judicial Circuit Narcotics Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team burned a toddler with a flashbang grenade during a drug raid on Wednesday, Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell told Access North Georgia: â€œThe person I blame in this whole thing is the person selling the drugs,â€ Terrell said. â€œWanis Thonetheva, thatâ€™s the person I blame in all this. They are no better than a domestic terrorist, because they donâ€™t care about families â€“ they didnâ€™t care about the family, the children living in that household â€“ to be selling dope out of it, to be selling methamphetamine out of it. All they care about is making money. Of course, Terrellâ€™s task force didnâ€™t even know there was a child in the home. So itâ€™s hard to argue they â€œcaredâ€ much either, at least not enough to let the kidâ€™s safety trump the safety of the officers, or the need to get into the home quickly to prevent any evidence from being destroyed so they can preserve their conviction. Itâ€™s also a bit much to call Thonetheva a â€œterroristâ€ shortly after his own officers have just burned a baby. But this same task force has a history. In February, I posted about a settlement in the death of Jonathan Ayers, an innocent pastor that this same drug task force killed in a drug operation in 2009. In September 2009, the young pastor Ayers was ministering to a young woman whom a Georgia drug task force was investigating on drug charges. (She had allegedly sold an undercover officer $50 worth of cocaine.) When task force members saw Ayers alone in the car with the woman, they switched their focus to him. According to Ayersâ€™s lawsuit, the woman was about to be evicted from the motel at which she was staying. Ayers gave her the $23 in his pocket to help cover her rent. The task force followed Ayers to a convenience store, where he went in to get money from an ATM. When he returned and got into his car they pounced. They pulled up behind him in an unmarked black SUV. Armed agents dressed in street clothes then rushed Ayersâ€™s car. He put his car in reverse and attempted to escape. In the process, he nicked one agent. Another then opened fire, killing him. Ayers told hospital staff was that he thought he was being robbed. His reported last words were, â€œWho shot me?â€ Ayers had no drugs in his car or in his system, and there was no evidence he was using or distributing anything illegal. Still, local law enforcement officials tried to smear him. They first said he was part of their drug investigation all along, then retracted. The woman the police were following initially said in an interview that Ayers was counseling her and helping her kick her drug habit. Later, while facing criminal charges for a separate incident, she changed her story and claimed that Ayers had been paying her for sex. In the end, Ayers was innocent, and a federal jury awarded his widow a $2 million settlement. In the burned toddler raid, Terrell told the paper that District Attorney Brian Rickman had already cleared the task force of any wrongdoing. Thatâ€™s a remarkably fast investigation given that the raid happened less than two days ago. Rickman also cleared the cops in the Ayers case. So did the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Rickman would tell a local paper that the investigations went â€œto extraordinary lengths,â€ and, â€œI do not see how anybody could say the process was unfair based on the lengths that they went to.â€ Hereâ€™s what happened next: Ayers left behind a wife, Abigail, who at the time of his death was pregnant with her first child. She filed a lawsuit and hired her own investigator to look into the shooting. What he found is astonishing. As it turns out, Officer Billy Shane Harrison, the cop who shot Ayers, hadnâ€™t taken the series of firearms training classes required for his certification as a police officer. It gets worse. It turns out that Harrison also had received zero training in the use of lethal force. He wasnâ€™t authorized to make arrests or to carry a gun. Yet somehow he had been given a position on a narcotics task force, a position that not only gave him a gun but put him in volatile, high-stakes situations where he might be tempted to use it. Abigail Ayersâ€™s lawsuit also alleged that Harrison and Officer Chance Oxner, who initially bought the drugs from the woman Ayers was counseling, had a history of disciplinary problems, including use of illicit drugs. So those â€œfairâ€ investigations that went to â€œextraordinary lengthsâ€ failed to discover that the cop who shot Ayers not only had prior disciplinary problems, but also he wasnâ€™t even legally authorized to be a cop, much less carry a gun. It was later revealed that Rickman had appointed the head of the task force at the time of the Ayers shooting, and was a close personal friend with the officer (who is now deceased). So maybe we should take Rickmanâ€™s quick assessment of this weekâ€™s raid with a grain of salt. In my post on Ayers, I noted how little professional accountability there had been for the death of Jonathan Ayers. The cop who killed him was fired, but only after it was revealed that he lacked the training. One other law enforcement official was fired for lying about the training. No one was disciplined for the actual killing of Ayers. Rickman, Terrell, and the other sheriff who oversees the task force were all reelected. Perhaps we shouldnâ€™t be all that surprised that a sheriff who sees drug supects as â€œterroristsâ€ also oversees a drug task force that has now killed an innocent pastor and burned a two-year-old child.