No-knock warrants vital in police investigations

ATLANTA — Veteran law enforcement officers defend the use of no-knock warrants and say it's a vital tool to keep officers safe and criminals from destroying critical evidence.

Habersham County deputies used a no-knock warrant to enter a suspected drug house in Cornelia.  When they opened the door, they tossed in a flash bang grenade, but it landed in the crib of 19-month old Bounkham Phonesavahn.  The explosion critically injured him.
Khalfani Yabuku of Triple-F Training retired after 28 years with the Atlanta Police Department.  He spent 10 of those years with the SWAT team.  Yabuku said no-knock warrants are a vital tool to law enforcement.
"Usually, there are two primary times when you utilize a no-knock warrant," Yabuku said. "That is to prevent destruction of evidence, and of course, if there is a circumstance that suggests an officer safety issue."

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Yabuku said no-knock warrants usually are obtained after investigators conduct surveillance on a location such as a home.  They take that information to a judge who, under the proper circumstances, can approve a no-knock warrant.
"There is usually some degree of surveillance," said Yabuku.  "Usually, you're going to try to survey your location to verify what's going on prior to even ascertaining the warrant."
Yabuku was not a member of the SWAT team in 2006 when APD officers admitted they lied on a search warrant affidavit and claimed they witnessed drugs being sold out of a house on Neal Street in northwest Atlanta. 
Officers used the no-knock warrant to burst into the home of 93-year-old Kathryn Johnston.  When she fired at who she thought were intruders, the officers returned fire and killed her.  Three of those officers later went to prison.
Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell defended the use of the no-knock and the flash bang and called the injury to Phonesavah a terrible accident.
Yabuku said a flash bang can blind with more than a million candlepower and deafen with more than 170-decibels.  He said the ammonium-potassium mixture inside a flash bang is designed to stun not to injure, but also said if it's too close to a person the explosion can hurt.
Still, he said flash bangs and no-knock warrants are critical tools in keep law enforcement officers along with innocent bystanders and potential suspects safe.
"Ideally, a good SWAT day is a day when no one gets injured," said Yabuku.  "No SWAT officers, no innocents and even no suspects."