May 3 2015 -
Several thousand people, mostly from Israel’s Jewish Ethiopian minority, protested in Tel Aviv against racism and police brutality, shutting down a major highway and clashing with police on horseback long into the night.
Now the family has over $1 million in medical bills with no restitution from the police who injured their son.
After more than five weeks in a coma, Bou Bou left the hospital and the family was relieved that they could finally return to Wisconsin.
In Georgia, Habersham County’s District Attorney Brian Rickman convened a grand jury to look into the botched police raid. After six days of testimony, the grand jury found “the drug investigation that led to these events was hurried, sloppy.”
They did not recommend criminal charges against any of the officers involved, which deeply upsets Bou Bou’s mother. “They made the mistake,” claims Alecia Phonesavanh. “And we got the backlash of everything.”
Since the incident, the toddler has undergone surgeries to repair his face and torso. The Phonesavanh family says they are facing close to $1 million in debt from hospital costs. Habersham County officials will not pay the medical bills, citing a “gratuity” law in Georgia that prohibits them from compensating the family.
But the Phonesavanh’s attorney, Mawuli Davis, believes the SWAT team’s actions during and after the raid make it accountable.
“The child was taken into their custody,” says Davis. “Taken from his family, as a result of an injury that was caused by the [sheriff’s department]. It would be our position that they should have to pay, and it is far from a gratuity.”
Under the state’s law, the county government has sovereign immunity from negligence claims against it, and thus the payment would be an illegal “gratuity” to the family.
As the holidays approach, the Phonesavanh family is mired in debt with medical bills they have no hope of paying. “Before this we didn’t owe anybody anything,” says Alecia Phonesavanh. “And now after all this, they have completely financially crippled us.”
Who is responsible for Bou Bou Phonesavanh’s injuries may still be a question for the courts to decide. The Phonesavanh family still has the option to file a civil lawsuit. And a federal investigation is now underway by the office of Sally Yates, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.
No charges filed against the police. No restitution for the wrongful invasion of their home. Home payment for the $1 million in medical bills accrued because of their negligent use of force against a toddler. No justice.
The state’s position in this case is indefensible at every turn.