Court overturns drug conviction after SWAT tossed flashbang near baby

One second after announcing their presence, the SWAT team knocked down the front door with a battering ram as and tossed a flashbang grenade into the room.

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Due to the fact that a SWAT team member tossed a flashbang grenade next to a 9-month-old baby while executing a drug search warrant, the Indiana Court of Appeals overturned felony convictions for a man arrested during the raid. The Evansville Police SWAT team became infamous in 2012 during a separate incident where they raided the wrong house and detonated two flashbang grenades before arresting an innocent grandmother.

On December 16, 2014, a confidential informant told Evansville Police Detective Chris Goergen that he had observed cocaine, marijuana, and a firearm inside a local residence. The next day, the Evansville SWAT team executed a search warrant at the residence with Officer Jacob Taylor recording the drug raid with a GoPro camera attached to his helmet.

One second after announcing their presence, the SWAT team knocked down the front door with a battering ram as Taylor immediately tossed a flashbang grenade into the room. Unbeknownst to Taylor, a 9-month-old baby was inside a playpen next to the door when the stun grenade detonated.

While removing the crying infant from the room, the officers finally noticed a baby’s car seat and a toddler’s activity center in the line of sight of the front door. After clearing the rest of the house, police discovered marijuana, cocaine, a digital scale, and a .40 caliber handgun.

Admitting that the narcotics belonged to him, Mario Deon Watkins was arrested and eventually convicted for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, felony possession of cocaine, and maintaining a common nuisance. Last week, the Indiana Court of Appeals overturned Watkins’ felony and misdemeanor convictions in a 2-1 decision because Taylor failed to check the room before tossing the flashbang grenade, which could have caused serious injury to the innocent baby.

“Comparing the factors, we conclude that while there was a considerable degree of suspicion, the extent of law enforcement needs for a military-style assault was low and the degree of intrusion was unreasonably high,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote in the majority opinion. “Under these specific circumstances and particularly in light of the use of a flash bang grenade in the same room as a 9-month old baby who was ‘very close’ to where the flash bang was deployed, the State has not demonstrated that the police conduct was reasonable under the totality of the circumstances. We conclude that the search violated Watkins’s rights under Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.”

In June 2012, the Evansville SWAT team executed another botched raid where they broke into the wrong house, detonated flashbang grenades, and arrested an innocent grandmother accused of posting anonymous internet threats against the police department. After the police arrested a man who had been accessing the innocent family’s internet connection, the City of Evansville paid $60,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the Milan family.

Last year the family of Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh settled for $3.6 million after a SWAT team in Georgia threw a flashbang grenade into the 19-month-old’s crib, leaving him seriously wounded and later placed into a medically induced coma. In May 2010, a Detroit SWAT team tossed a flashbang grenade into the wrong apartment before killing 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones by shooting her in the head as she slept on the couch next to her grandmother.

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