It has been one year since a teenaged Louisiana autistic boy succumbed to the efforts of sheriff’s deputies to restrain him. Now, his parents, Dr. Daren Parsa and Dr. Donna Lou, have filed a lawsuit in United States District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana alleging that authorities used “excessive force” and were negligent in the death of their only child. They are also accused of violating his civil rights as well as his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Eric Parsa, 16, was severely autistic. All of the deputies involved in the incident were told that. In fact, they were heard mentioning that fact to each other during the event.
A total of seven sheriff’s deputies from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office restrained him that day. Besides literally sitting on the obese young man, these deputies shackled him, handcuffed him, and otherwise held him down. He was held on his stomach, face down, on the parking lot pavement.
One of them, Chad Pitfield, who provided security for the strip mall, weighed 365 pounds and stood 6’3”. He sat on Eric’s rear for seven minutes and was relieved by another deputy for two minutes. A third deputy also sat on the youth.
After playing a game of laser tag at the Metairie strip mall, Eric went into meltdown mode. He began hitting himself and then striking and biting his father. The bites were hard enough to draw blood.
The manager of the laser tag company notified Pitfield after receiving permission from Eric’s parents. Eric did hit a deputy arriving at the scene. That is when he was pinned down and sat on.
Along with deputies sitting on him for nine minutes, Eric was also held in a chokehold for part of that time.
According to the lawsuit, there were numerous times during those nine minutes when Eric was calm and secured and not resisting. Their lawyer says the deputies should have taken the opportunity during those periods to roll him on his side so he could keep breathing. They did not do so. Only after Eric had gone limp did they relent.
His mother, a doctor, attempted to resuscitate him but was ordered to stay back by the deputies. She saw her son turning blue and foaming at the mouth. He died of cardiac arrest shortly after being taken to the hospital.
While the Jefferson Parish’s Coroner’s Office declared the death an accident, it noted keeping him prone had contributed to his demise. Other factors leading to his death included his obesity and an enlarged heart.
In a Zoom news conference, Lou said she and her husband were “private people” but realized a lawsuit was the only way to bring change. “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. One of their attorneys added that it was clear the deputies had no idea how to handle a special needs individual.
Lou said Eric was their “purpose in life.” His skills improved as he got older, and he made substantial progress in recent years. She did not want any other family to experience what she and her husband went through.
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