ProPublica investigates police use of flashbangs in raids

In the past 14 years, police have used flashbangs to either seriously injure, maim or kill people – including the officers themselves in some cases – during raids, according to an investigation conducted by ProPublica and the Atlantic published Monday.

Police use the grenades to temporarily disorient a person by producing a bright flash of light and concussive explosion.

According to the investigation, police argue that the devices are necessary to protect the lives of officers who could be faced with suspects potentially armed with firearms, but sometimes the intelligence gathering by officers is sub par. Other times, the execution of a raid doesn’t go as planned.         

One extreme example showed that Clayton County, Georgia police used the devices to incapacitate potential suspects during raids about 80 percent of the time in 2009.

The following year, that police department led an assault on a Laurel Park apartment and deployed a stun grenade, causing serious injury to a couple as they slept inside. The female, Treneshia Dukes, suffered second-degree burns across her body. Police found about a tenth of an ounce of marijuana inside, ProPublica reported.           

Just last year, Georgia police again made headlines after  Habersham County SWAT police – with jurisdiction about two hours south of Clayton – tossed a flashbang into the crib of 19-month-old Bounkham Phonesavanh.

Though the residents had a connection to a suspect police were after, he was not present at the time of the raid and later surrendered in a house down the road.

According to police records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, between 2011 and 2013, police in Little Rock, Arkansas, used flashbangs 112 times, which accounted for 84 percent of all raids during that time. Most of those incidents occurred in black neighborhoods.   

The ProPublica investigation found that once a police department registers its stock of flash grenades with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, only that department is accountable for the use of those devises and few keep track of how often they’re used. The investigation also found that there have been no criminal convictions of police officers who’ve been involved in a botched raid using flashbangs.

A 7th Circuit judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2000 wrote that “police cannot automatically throw bombs into drug dealers’ houses, even if the bomb goes by the euphemism ‘flash-bang device,’” ProPublica reported.  

In the case of baby Bounkham, a grand jury decided not to indict the officers involved in injuring him, and instead recommended better training.

Tell us what you think of the ProPublica report: Should police limit or halt the use of flashbangs in raids?