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Parents’ Lawsuit Blames Sheriff’s Office for Suffocation Death of Autistic 16-Year-Old Son


The parents of a Louisiana teen blame a local sheriff’s office for the death of their son. In a lawsuit filed Thursday, the parents of Eric Parsa, 16, argued that authorities went overboard in restraining their son, who was on the autism spectrum and who was undergoing a sensory outburst. The response from deputies led to the teen’s suffocation and death, the lawsuit alleges.

From the complaint, obtained by Law&Crime:

E.P. died as a direct result of the actions of the JPSO deputies. While the deputies attempted to obfuscate and justify their use of force, body pressure and restraint by their own self-serving statements, the facts clearly show that the prolonged, pressurized prone restraint of E.P., the deputies use of excessive force and body weight, the use of a choke/neck hold and mechanical restraints, and other force used on E.P., and their failure to monitor E.P. during these events directly and proximately caused the death of E.P. as a result of asphyxia.

The parents took Parsa to a routine visit to Laser Tag at the Westgate Shopping Center in Metairie, La., on Jan. 19, 2020, according to the complaint. Parsa, who had severe autistic spectrum disorder and had limited language skills, began suffering a sensory overload and slapped his head in a possible attempt to calm down himself. From the complaint:

A sensory overload or outburst or “melt-down” for a person with severe autism like E.P. is a crisis event which involves the involuntary, neurological flooding of the brain circuitry, described sometimes as like a “storm” in the brain, causing behaviors, in E.P.’s instance, which can manifest themselves in self-injurious and/or aggressive behaviors towards others. While not technically a “seizure,” it is similar to a seizure in that it is not volitional or intentional but is caused by and related to his severe autism.

As indicated in the lawsuit, the parents consented to the Laser Tag manager calling 911. The 911 caller described a “confrontation” between father and son. As seen on video, Parsa can be seen striking his father in the head after a deputy arrived. The deputy got between them, and Parsa struck him.

Deputies forcefully restrained Parsa for nine minutes and six seconds, the lawsuit says. The complaint made note of Eric’s physical condition: he was obese. It also noted that one of the deputies involved, Chad Pitfield, was 6’3″ and weighed over 300 pounds.

“Pitfield remained seated on E.P.’s back, with E.P. in a prone position, face down on the hard surface of the parking lot, for approximately seven minutes, from 1:29:15 p.m. to approximately 1:36:02 p.m,” the complaint said.

The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office promises to fight the allegations in court.

“Once deputies arrived, they tried to control the violent teenager’s outbursts to prevent him from again attacking his parents and first responders,” the office said in a statement obtained by WWL-TV.

“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 statement later said.

You can read the complaint here:

Eric Parsa’s parents sue over his death by Law&Crime on Scribd

[Screengrab via WWL-TV]

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