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Eric Parsa died nearly one year ago after being restrained by sheriff's deputies

By Ashley Boucher
January 15, 2021 11:04 PM
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eric parsa
Eric Parsa
| Credit: legacy.com

The parents of a teenager with autism have filed a lawsuit against the sheriff's deputies who detained their son, alleging that they sat on the 16-year-old for a combined total of nine minutes.

Daren Parsa and Donna Lou are accusing Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph P. Lopinto III and seven deputies of negligence and excessive force in addition to violating their son's rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the New York Times reported.

Eric Parsa, 16, had severe autism. He died nearly one year ago on January 19, 2020.

According to the lawsuit, Eric had a "meltdown" as he and his parents were leaving a laser tag center in Metairie, Louisiana, the Washington Post reported. He reportedly slapped himself and his father, prompting the laster tag manager to call reserve deputy Chad Pitfield who was providing security to the shopping center where the incident took place.

Pitfield and the other deputies who eventually arrived on the scene allegedly pinned Eric to the ground and later bound his hands and feet. Lou and Daren's lawyers reportedly said that the deputies who responded had been told Eric had autism.

Pitfield sat on Eric for about seven minutes, the lawsuit said, according to the Washington Post, and then another deputy took over. The lawsuit reportedly said that seven deputies ended up "sitting on, handcuffing, shackling, holding down, or standing by E.P. as he was restrained and held face down on his stomach against the hard surface of the parking lot."

Eric was allegedly held down for a total of nine minutes and six seconds, during which "there were several clear and distinct opportunities, when E.P. was secured, was calm, was not actively resisting."

"They should've taken the weight off of Eric Parsa's back," said William Most, one of Eric's parent's lawyers, per the New York Times. "They should have rolled Eric Parsa on to his side to ensure that he could continue to breathe."

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But they didn't, according to the lawsuit, until the teenager had gone limp.

"By then it was too late. E.P. was dying," the lawsuit said, according to the Washington Post.

Lou, a doctor, tried to help resuscitate her son, but was reportedly told to "stay back and let them do their job," the Washington Post reported.

Eric was eventually taken to East Jefferson Hospital, where he went into cardiac arrest and died, the New York Times reported. His death was declared an accident by the Jefferson Parish Coroner's Office, but said his prone position had been a factor.

The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's office did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment, but disputed the lawsuit's claims in a statement to the New York Times and the Washington Post.

"While the Sheriff's Office understands that all deaths are cause for sadness and a time for grieving, this lawsuit is rife with false claims and malicious accusations against the first responding deputies," the statement said.

Lou said in a news conference Thursday that "not a day goes by" that she and Daren "don't yearn for Eric and grieve the loss of his life and the future he would have had."

"Never did we ever think that our 16-year-old son with special needs would die in front of our eyes at this age and in the hands of law enforcement," she said. "Unfortunately, it is our reality of a nightmare."

The grieving mother added that she and Daren "bring this lawsuit in hopes that Eric's death will not be in vain and no other families will have to go through the same horror, loss and shock that we are experiencing."

The couples' lawyer did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.