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Parents of “Severely Autistic” Louisiana Teen Sue Jefferson Parish Sheriff, Deputies for Son’s Death

— January 18, 2021

Deputies knew they were dealing with a “severely autistic” teenager, yet decided to restrain the youth by sitting on his back and placing him in a chokehold, eventually killing him.

The parents of a “severely autistic teenager” who died last year have filed a federal lawsuit against sheriff’s deputies in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.

According to The New York Times, Eric Parsa’s parents say their son was killed after Jefferson Parish deputies attempted to restrain the 16-year old boy by sitting on top of him. Deputies purportedly took turns straddling Parsa, straddling his back for at least nine minutes in total.

By the time law enforcement believed they had Parsa under control, the youth had sustained fatal injuries.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, comes nearly a year after Parsa’s untimely death.

Parsa, says the New York Times, was killed on January 19th, 2020, shortly after he had suffered an “autism-related meltdown” near a shopping center. Deputies confronted Parsa in the shopping center parking lot, where he was handcuffed and restrained.

Parsa, notes the Times, purportedly suffered an emotional or sensory overload upon exiting the building.

Eric’s parents, Drs. Daren and Donna Lou, claim that Jefferson Parish deputies exhibited negligence and deployed excessive force against a clearly-troubled teenage boy.

Alongside brutalizing Parsa to the point of death, the boy’s parents say law enforcement violated their son’s rights under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Never did we 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,” Dr. Donna Lou said in a press conference announcing the lawsuit. “Unfortunately, it is our reality of a nightmare.”

Generic sheriff’s badge. Image via Flickr/user:Kim Siever. Public domain.

The New York Times lists the defendants as Sheriff Joseph P. Lopinto III of Jefferson Parish, alongside seven deputies in Lopinto’s employ.

While the sheriff’s office has disputed the allegations detailed in the lawsuit, Howard Manis—an attorney representing Parsa’s parents—says it is apparent the deputies “clearly had no idea how to handle an individual with special needs.”

Mannis recounted how, despite being repeatedly warned that they were dealing with a mentally disabled child and that they “had communicated amongst themselves that they were dealing with a young man who was severely autistic, to them it was just business as usual.”

The Times notes that Eric’s breakdown began after his parents took him out of the shopping center, wherein Parsa had played laser tag.

Parsa initiated a violent outburst after being taken into the parking lot and began slapping himself as well as his father.

A shopping center employee asked Parsa’s parents whether they wanted or needed law enforcement help, and dialed emergency services only after receiving an affirmative reply.

When police arrived, a deputy of “substantial” size threw Parsa on the ground, after which he and several of his colleagues took turns sitting on the boy’s back; Parsa was also allegedly held in a choke hold.

After it became clear Parsa was on the verge of death, deputies refused to let Dr. Donna Lou—a trained and registered physician—provide medical aid, preferring instead to perform resuscitation themselves.

In response to the suit, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department lambasted Parsa’s parents, claiming they filed a complaint full of falsehoods.

“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 sheriff’s office said in a statement.

Dr. Donna Lou suggested to the New York Times that Eric Parsa had been struggling to overcome his autism-related social disabilities and had shown improvement in recent years.

“Not a day goes by where we don’t yearn for Eric and grieve the loss of his life and the future he would have had,” Dr. Donna Lou told the Times. “We 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.”


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