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Report: Police are rarely held accountable for maiming people with flashbang grenades

Flashbang grenades.
Flashbang grenades.
Paul Richards / AFP via Getty Images

Police deployment of flashbang grenades caused burns, severed hands and fingers, induced heart attacks, burned down homes, and killed pets, according to a new report from ProPublica and the Atlantic. But individual police officers and departments were rarely held accountable for the injuries and damages, leaving it up to local jurisdictions to decide whether to revise their policies.

Sometimes the raids uncovered minor crimes, such as the possession of small amounts of marijuana or unlicensed alcohol sales. The victims varied, ranging from alleged drug dealers to a scared 54-year-old grandmother to a 19-month-old baby who nearly died when a flashbang was thrown near his pillow.

The report found cops rarely have to fear the consequences of these raids:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit wrote in 2000 that "police cannot automatically throw bombs into drug dealers' houses, even if the bomb goes by the euphemism 'flash-bang device.'" In practice, however, there are few checks on officers who want to use them. Once a police department registers its inventory with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, it is accountable only to itself for how it uses the stockpile. ProPublica's review of flashbang injuries found no criminal convictions against police officers who injured citizens with the devices.

There are no binding national requirements for police training in flashbang grenades, according to the report. The National Tactical Officers Association, the trade group for SWAT teams, advises that untrained officers not use the explosive devices. Whether the training actually occurs is often left to lower levels of government and police departments.

The one example in the report of a police department changing its policy came when a cop injured himself on the job. Brandt Carmical, a North Little Rock, Arkansas, police officer, severed his right hand during a flashbang demonstration for a local Boy Scout troop. The department has been "more selective" about its use of flashbang grenades since the injury, Carmical said.

Across the river, in Little Rock, Arkansas, records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union found police used flashbangs during 84 percent of raids.

Read the full report at ProPublica or the Atlantic.