BILLINGS, Mont. — A Billings SWAT team raiding a house where they suspected a meth lab to be set off a “flash-bang” grenade that burned a 12-year-old girl sleeping on the floor of her sister’s bedroom, the girl’s mother said.
Jackie Fasching said her daughter was treated for first- and second-degree burns to her left side after the raid Tuesday morning.
“She’s got severe pain,” Fasching told The Billings Gazette for a story published Friday. “Every time I think about it, it brings tears to my eyes.”
Police Chief Rich St. John said the 6 a.m. raid was done to execute a search warrant as part of a narcotics investigation. He said the decision to use a SWAT team was based on a detailed checklist that takes into consideration residents’ past criminal convictions, other criminal history, mental illness and previous interactions with law enforcement.
“The warrant was based on some hard evidence and everything we knew at the time,” St. John said. However, he said officers did not know there were children in the house.
“It was totally unforeseen, totally unplanned and extremely regrettable,” he said. “We certainly did not want a juvenile, or anyone else for that matter, to get injured.”
No arrests have been made and no charges have been filed, but a police spokesman said some evidence was recovered.
A SWAT team member attached the flash-bang to a metal pole and stuck it through the window of the bedroom where the girl was sleeping, St. John said. However, the officer didn’t realize there was a delay on the grenade when he tried to detonate it. He dropped it to move on to a new device and the grenade hit the floor and went off next to the sleeping girl, St. John said.
The grenade left a large bowl-shaped dent in the wall and “blew the nails out of the drywall,” Fasching said.
A claims process has been started with the city, he said.
“If we’re wrong or made a mistake, then we’re going to take care of it,” he said. “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.”
Fasching said if officers had knocked on the door, she would have let them in. She said her husband, who suffers from congenital heart disease and liver failure, told officers he would open the door as the raid began and was opening it when they knocked it down.
She said the entry created a sense of fear that she and her daughters can’t shake.
“I’m going to have to take them to counseling,” she said. “They’re never going to get over that.”