Habersham County, GA-- In May of last year, Bounkham “Baby Bou Bou” Phonesavanh, 19-months-old, was asleep in his crib. At 3:00 am militarized police barged into his family's home because an informant had purchased $50 worth of meth from someone who once lived there. During the raid, a flash-bang grenade was thrown into the sleeping baby's crib, exploding in his face.
Beyond the disfiguring wounds on the toddler's face, the grenade also left a gash in his chest. As a result, Bou lost the ability to breathe on his own and was left in a medically induced coma for days after the incident. Bou was not able to go home from the hospital until July.
No officers were charged for their near-deadly negligence, and the department claimed that they did not know that there were children in the home. They defended their reckless actions by saying that they couldn’t have done a thorough investigation prior to the raid because it “would have risked revealing that the officers were watching the house.”
Now, a nearly $1 million dollar settlement has been reached between the family and the county. One of the terms of the settlement is that the family may not sue individuals involved in maiming their son. Instead of coming from the wallets of the negligent officers, it will come strictly from the taxpayers.
“Over the last few months the Board of County Commissioners has sought a way to bring some measure of closure to this matter while doing what is right, both for the Phonesavanh family and the law enforcement officers involved,” said a statement issued on behalf of the county. “For that reason we have reached a limited settlement with the Phonesavanhs that allows for a payment to them in exchange for protection of the officers and the county.”
The settlement does not mean that there can be no further litigation, but that all litigation must be directed at the county insurance policies, not individuals or the county’s general fund.
The settlement is to be broken up as follows:
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• $538,000 paid to Baby Bou Bou’s parents, Alecia and Bounkham Phonesavanh, to cover medical expenses
• $200,000 set aside “to provide for the schedule of future periodic payments” to the todller
• $137,000 paid to Baby Bou Bou himself for “personal injuries”
• $62,000 to Alecia Phonesavanh for “having been subjected to emotional distress”
• A total of $27,000 split evenly among the Phonesavanh’s three other children
Medical bills for the treatment of Bou's injuries are expected to reach $1 million dollars.
In Los Angeles, settlements to resolve lawsuits against the LAPD amount to over one billion dollars a year. Across the country in New York City, a lawsuit is filed every two and a half hours against the NYPD. They are sued so often, in fact, that the city comptroller, Scott Stringer, said that the 2015 budget would have to include $674 million dollars for settlements and judgments against the police. The budget allotted for police negligence and misconduct is more than the budget for the Parks Department, Department of Aging, and the New York Public Library combined.
In October of last year, documents released by the New York City Law Department after a FOIA request was submitted by MuckRock showed over 12,000 cases against the NYPD since 2009. Over $428,000,000 was paid in settlements in these cases over only five years.
As of 2014, the city of Chicago had also paid out nearly a half a billion dollars in settlements over the past decade.
The money for settlements relating to abuse and negligence at the hands of police officers is not paid by the officers who inflicted the damages, but by taxpayers. It is for this reason that it is important to push for legislation requiring police to carry personal liability insurance.
Activists pushing for this change believe that if the money for these settlements came from the police themselves, to protect their own wallets, they would be more likely to refrain from abuse. If an officer caused too many settlements, he or she would also eventually become uninsurable, and be forced off duty.
We are paying for their brutality.