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Parents of 'severely autistic' teen killed in JPSO custody file civil rights lawsuit

Attorneys say deputies restrained Eric by placing him face down on the pavement, handcuffing him behind his back and sitting on him for more than 9 minutes.

JEFFERSON PARISH, La. — A Destrehan couple is suing the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’ Office for negligence in the death of their severely autistic son. 

The teenager died while being restrained by JPSO deputies during a violent confrontation in the parking lot of a Metairie shopping center a year ago next week. 

Daren Parsa and his wife Donna Lou say not a day goes by they don’t yearn for their son Eric and think about the future he would have had. 

“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 said.

New video released as part of a lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court in New Orleans, shows Eric Parsa leaving the Laser Tag in Metairie last January. 

The teen was clearly upset and he started slapping at himself and his father.

"Because of his limited language skills, Eric could be self-injurious and have aggressive behaviors when he was frustrated,” Lou said.  

Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies soon arrived on the scene. 

Attorneys representing the parents say deputies restrained Eric by placing him face down on the pavement, handcuffing him behind his back and sitting on him for more than nine minutes. 

They also claim one deputy used a choke hold on the teen. 

“As a result, Eric went limp, he stopped breathing and he died,” attorney William Most said. 

“They violated the most basic tenants of good law enforcement and it resulted in the loss of a life,” attorney Howard Manis said. 

The parents are now suing Sheriff Joe Lopinto, seven JPSO deputies and the owners of Westgate Shopping Center. 

They claim negligence and violations of Eric Parsa’s civil rights. 

“Once deputies arrived, they tried to control the violent teenager's outbursts to prevent him from again attacking his parents and first responders,” the JPSO said in a statement.

The statement went on to say, “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 say they are bringing this lawsuit in the hopes that their son’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,” Lou said. 

The lawsuit is seeking unspecified monetary damages. 

See the full lawsuit here:

Read the full statement responding to the lawsuit from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office below:

"The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office does not generally publicly respond to matters regarding active litigation. The Sheriff's Office, however, is compelled to respond to the lawsuit filed today in the Eastern District of Louisiana titled Parsa v. Sheriff Joseph P. Lopinto, III, et al.

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. 

This case centers on a severely autistic teenager diagnosed with numerous other mental conditions which caused him to have frequent violent outbursts.  The teenager violently attacked his father in a Jefferson Parish parking lot.  The teenager beat and bit his own father, causing significant visible bloody injuries.  A bystander called the Sheriff's Office to respond to the scene.

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.  The Sheriff's Office will timely respond to these matters as requested by the Court."

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