The parents of Eric Parsa is suing the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and seven of its deputies for the death of their son, reports NBC News. According to the lawsuit, the 16-year-old “severely autistic” teenager died last year due to injuries caused by deputies as they restrained him.
“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, the mother of Eric said in a news conference, reports CNN. “Unfortunately it is our reality of a nightmare that we have had to live with every day since his untimely death.”
The incident occurred on January 19, 2020 at the Westgate Shopping Center in Metairie, Louisiana. Donna, Eric, and his father Daren Parsa were at a laser tag center when he began to have a “meltdown” in the parking lot. The teenager started slapping himself in the head then slapped his father and bit him, according to the suit.
Jefferson Parish Deputy Chad Pitfield was the first to arrive on the scene. Eric started to slap himself again then slapped Pitfield which prompted Pitfield to take Eric to the ground, according to the lawsuit. On the ground, the lawsuit said Eric bit Pitfield to which Pitfield responded by hitting Eric in the head area and called for backup.
Pitfield restrained Eric with two handcuffs because of his size and sat on Eric’s back for about seven minutes allegedly. Then when backup arrived, another officer by the name of Nick Vega sat on Eric’s back and put him in a chokehold when Pitfield got off Eric, according to the lawsuit.
The suit alleges that the deputies knew of Eric’s autism and they used excessive force. For nine minutes the officers sat on his back suffocating him and only when Eric’s body went limp did they put him into a “recovery position,” the suit said.
“Crucially, what the deputy should have done at that point, once things were calm and everything was fine, was they should have taken the weight off of Eric Parsa’s back,” an attorney for the family, William Most said. “They should have rolled Eric Parsa onto his side to ensure that he could continue breathe. But the deputies did not do so.”
Eric was taken to the hospital where he went into cardiac arrest and died.
The Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office ruled the death an accident.
The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office disagreed with the claims made in the lawsuit. They said they were being “slandered by those seeking to profit from this unfortunate situation.”
“This case centers on a severely autistic teenager diagnosed with numerous other mental conditions which caused him to have frequent violent outbursts,” the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “…Once deputies arrived, they tried to control the violent teenager’s outbursts to prevent him from again attacking his parents and first responders. Deputies allowed the teenager’s mother constant access to remain close to her son on the scene so that she could help first responders in defusing her son’s violent behavior.
“While the Sheriff’s Office remains deeply saddened over this unfortunate loss of life, it does not intend to allow Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Deputies to be maligned and slandered by those seeking to profit from this unfortunate situation.”
Eric’s parents are seeking unspecified damages but hopes that their story will prevent another family from going through the same thing.
“We bring this lawsuit in hopes that Eric’s death would not be in vain,” Donna said, “and no other family would have to go through the same horror.”