A Lakeland Police Department drug raid went awry Thursday afternoon when a 2-year-old boy was injured by the use of a “distraction device.”
While executing a search warrant at a “known drug house” in the 1100 block of West Ninth Street at about 12:02 p.m., officers believed the first room to be empty and deployed a “noise-flash diversion product,” public information officer Gary Gross explained during a Friday press conference.
“(The SWAT team) knocked and announced their presence at that house and they had to use force to get inside. The door was locked and had to be kicked in,” Gross said. “One of our tactical officers entered that and looked into the first open space area, which happened to be the living room, cleared that visually and he throws what we call a distraction device.”
Such devices are commonly used to give officers more time to safely enter a residence, Gross said. He described the entire house a mess.
“This house, I would not let my dog live in. It was trashed. There was filth everywhere, furniture on the floor,” said Gross. “This first room, as you can see from the photograph, was littered with garbage, clothes and there’s two mattresses leaning against the wall.”
But the room wasn’t empty. In a department statement released Friday, Lakeland Police said a young child began walking toward the device just as it activated.
The toddler appeared to have been hiding behind the mattresses when officers entered, according to Gross, who added that the child was almost directly on top of the device when it went off.
The officer immediately grabbed the injured child and took him outside to the SWAT team medic, who always accompanies officers during raids. The child was taken to Lakeland Regional Health and then Tampa General Hospital for further treatment of the third-degree burns on 14 percent of his body, according to Lakeland Police.
“Our worst nightmare, I can tell you that, in doing a search warrant is that there’s children in the house. We try to do as much intel as we can beforehand. There was no information to come forth that there was any children in the house,” Gross said. “We are just as hurt. We feel for the family and that young child that was injured yesterday, and we hope, obviously, that he makes a full recovery.”
Police say the boy has been had been left in the care of 29-year-old Willie C. Cohen, who was arrested at the scene and charged with possession of ammunition by a convicted felon. Newton Al Harris, 29, was also arrested and charged with possession of ammunition by a convicted felon.
Gross said three other individuals were in the home at the time of the raid and he expects more charges to come as the investigation continues.
According to Lakeland Police, a pit bull that “lunged at” a K9 officer was also injured when the officer fired at the dog and grazed its leg. An animal control unit determined that there were no serious injuries to the dog.
During the search, officers recovered methamphetamines, Xanax, K2 synthetic cannabis, crack cocaine, drug paraphernalia and a loaded handgun.
The Department of Children and Families will conduct a joint investigation into the welfare of the injured child, Lakeland Police said.