Botched SWAT raid leaves 12-year-old girl with second-degree burns

AFP Photo / Kimihiro Hoshino
The parents of a 12-year-old girl are asking for answers from the Billings, Montana SWAT team after a flash-bang grenade was tossed into their daughter’s bedroom, sending the preteen to a local emergency room with second-degree burns.

Armed police officers busted down the door of the Fasching family’s West End Billings home on Tuesday to execute a search warrant filed by the City-County Special Investigations Unit as part of an ongoing narcotics investigation. Before they could do as much, though, an agent with the SWAT team on the scene prematurely detonated a stun grenade that is reported to have caused not just substantial damage to the home but its occupants as well, including a 12-year-old girl only inches away from where the device was deployed.

"She has first- and second-degree burns down the left side of her body and on her arms," mother Jackie Fasching tells The Missoulian newspaper. "She's got severe pain. Every time I think about it, it brings tears to my eyes."

The girl, whose name is being withheld, was in her sister’s room when the SWAT team stormed the house early Tuesday. And while she has since been treated and released twice from a local hospital, pictures from the aftermath provided to the Missoulian by her parents show that the family didn’t suffer from just a minor mishap.

"I'm going to have to take them to counseling," Mrs. Fasching says. "They're never going to get over that."

The early-morning raid occurred at around 6 a.m. when the entire family was home, and while the Billings Police Department says they took all precautions to minimize injury, they’re now apologizing for the injury their misconduct has caused.

"It was totally unforeseen, totally unplanned and extremely regrettable," Police Chief Rich St. John tells the paper. "We certainly did not want a juvenile, or anyone else for that matter, to get injured."

According to the story the department has provided to the paper, a member of the SWAT team accidently dropped a standard “flash-bang” grenade from a metal pole placed up to a bedroom window of the house without realizing that the device operated off a slight delay. The weapons are regularly used to disorient people in the immediate vicinity with a bright flash, loud bang and concussive blast, the paper writes. When it detonated inside the Fasching home, though, it was on the floor next the child.

Jackie Fasching says all of this could have been avoided if the police would have just used their manners.

"A simple knock on the door and I would've let them in," she tells the paper. "They said their intel told them there was a meth lab at our house. If they would've checked, they would've known there's not."

Chief St. John says that the amount and significance of intelligence made available to the department was enough to warrant a raid either way, and said that the department weighed their investigation carefully before determining that a surprise visit was the best way to search the house.

"Every bit of information and intelligence that we have comes together and we determine what kind of risk is there," he tells the Missoulian. "The warrant was based on some hard evidence and everything we knew at the time."

"If we're wrong or made a mistake, then we're going to take care of it," he adds. "But if it determines we're not, then we'll go with that. When we do this, we want to ensure the safety of not only the officers, but the residents inside."

Three days after the raid, the department has yet to file any charges against members of the Fasching household and no one in the family has been taken into custody.