A Louisiana couple is suing their local sheriff’s department after their severely autistic son died during a confrontation with them in a laser tag parking lot a year ago.
Eric Parsa, 16, died as he was being restrained by Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies last January during an incident that began with Parsa attacking his father Daren Parsa.
Daren and his wife Donna Lou have filed a lawsuit in New Orleans federal court in which they allege negligence on the part of authorities and ask for unspecified monetary damages, local outlet WWLTV reports. Sheriff Joe Lopinto, seven JPSO deputies, and the owners of Westgate Shopping Center are named in the suit.
“Never did we think that our 16-year-old son with special needs would die in front of our eyes at his age and in the hands of law enforcement,” Donna Lou told the outlet in an emotional interview.
Last January, the teen, described in the lawsuit as "severely autistic," was leaving Laser Tag in Metairie when he began slapping both himself and his father.
"Because of his limited language skills, Eric could be self-injurious and have aggressive behaviors when he was frustrated,” Lou explained.
The lawsuit states that the responding deputies restrained the teenager by placing him face down on the pavement and handcuffing him behind his back. Then, it alleges that they sat on him for more than nine minutes. One deputy also used a chokehold on the teen, the suit alleges.
Deputies were aware that Eric was both “obese” and a “special needs child,” the lawsuit states, adding that authorities have known for years about the risk of death by restraining and applying pressure on someone like Eric.
"The danger of serious risk of death related to the use of restraints and physical pressure applied to an overweight/obese person in a prone position, especially following a period of exertion,” has been known by law enforcement “for decades,” it states.
The sheriff’s department has not immediately responded to Oxygen.com’s request for comment.
In a widely distributed statement, the sheriff’s office stated they understand “that all deaths are cause for sadness and a time for grieving” but said “this lawsuit is rife with false claims and malicious accusations against the first responding deputies.”
They state that they tried to “control the violent teenager's outbursts to prevent him from again attacking his parents and first responders” and added that they do not “intend to allow Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Deputies to be maligned and slandered by those seeking to profit from this unfortunate situation.”
The sheriff's office said they will respond to the matters as requested by the court.
Parsa family attorney Howard Manis, meanwhile, told WWLTV that the deputies have “violated the most basic tenets of good law enforcement and it resulted in the loss of a life.”
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