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Podcast: The Horrifying Truth About Police Use of Flashbangs

(Andrea Morales for ProPublica)

When French special forces wanted to stun the hostage takers at the kosher supermarket in Paris, they threw flashbangs – modified grenades that emit a blinding flash of light and ear-piercing noise. But American police departments are tossing these same military-style devices into American homes routinely, with sometimes horrifying results, ProPublica's Julia Angwin says on the podcast.

In her latest report, co-published with the Atlantic, Angwin details how the flash powder in these grenades burn at a temperature hotter than lava and have seriously injured or killed at least 50 Americans, including police officers, since 2000. Yet Angwin found no criminal convictions against police officers who harmed civilians with these devices.

“You can’t really talk about flashbangs without talking about the baby who was almost killed by a flashbang,” Angwin tells Editor-in-Chief Steve Engelberg. The 19-month-old, Bou Bou Phonesavanh, was nearly killed when police threw a flashbang into the crib where he was sleeping during a predawn drug raid. Bou Bou's nose was blown off, and his chest blown open. In the end, no drugs were found, and the suspect was at another house.

Some police departments have incorporated flashbangs into nearly every raid, even for misdemeanor offenses. In Little Rock, Ark., between 2011 and 2013, SWAT teams threw flashbangs into homes in 84 percent of raids –mostly in predominantly black neighborhoods, according to the ACLU.

Despite the prevalence of flashbangs, there are no national training requirements for the police who use them. And it's not easy for people injured by flashbangs to win lawsuits against police, since courts have ruled that flashbangs are a reasonable use of force if officers look before they toss them.

Tune into this podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher. For more on this investigation, read Angwin's full story here.

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