Parents of teen with autism who died during arrest in Louisiana files suit against sheriff, deputies

Local News

The Cochran Firm

METAIRIE, La. (WDSU) — The parents of a 16-year-old who died in 2020 while Jefferson Parish deputies were trying to arrest him have filed a lawsuit against the Jefferson Parish Sheriff, numerous deputies, and other parties for their role in his death, according to a statement made by the family Thursday morning.

Donna Lou and Daren Parsa, the parents of the teen Eric Parsa, announced the lawsuit one year after the incident at a shopping mall outside of New Orleans.

CLICK HERE to read the full lawsuit.

They said the suit specifically names Sheriff Joseph Lopinto and other deputies.

According to the lawsuit, Eric’s parents allege he was held down in a prone position, on his stomach, handcuffed, shackled, arms and legs held down, head, shoulder and neck encircled by the arm of a deputy, with JPSO deputies applying their own body weight as a restraint, while he was suffering from an acute sensory episode or “outburst” related to and caused by his severe autism.

The family claims in the lawsuit that a deputy over 300 pounds held their son in the prone position for 9 minutes and 6 seconds with his body weight.

The family said there were several moments in that time frame where Eric was calm and not resisting, according to the suit.

His parents claim in the suit that Eric remained on his stomach until he urinated on himself, and only then did he get moved to “a recovery position.”

The lawsuit says that the Jefferson Parish coroner identified Eric’s cause of death as “Excited Delirium due to an Acute Psychotic Episode in the setting of Severe Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Disruptive Behavior Disorder.”

The suit says the coroner also identified contributing factors to his death that included morbid obesity with prone positioning and cardiomegaly.

The manner of death was classified as an accident, according to the suit.

Lopinto was named in the suit along with several deputies including Deputy Chad Pitfield, Deputy Ryan Vaught, Deputy Steven Mehrtens, Deputy Shannon Guidry, Deputy Nick Vega, Deputy Manuel Estrada, and Deputy Myron Gaudet. There other unknown deputies were named as “John Doe Deputies 1-3.”

The lawsuit claims Lopinto did not conduct a proper investigation of the incident, and that the named and unnamed deputies used “unreasonable and excessive force” against their son Eric.

The family is asking for damages including covering for funeral fees, burial, and attorney fees.

WDSU reached out to JPSO for comment but was told the sheriff’s office does not comment on pending litigation.

On Jan. 19, Jefferson Parish deputies were trying to arrest Eric for violently biting his father and one of the deputies in Metairie, according to officials in the original report.

A spokesperson for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office said the attack was reported around 1:30 p.m. in the 8800 block of Veterans Boulevard.

Lopinto said at the time of the incident that a deputy went to a business in the block to investigate a report of a man attacking another man. The deputy found the victim, a 53-year-old man, suffering from multiple bite wounds, including some to his face, and abrasions, officials said.

The victim’s 16-year-old son was detained on the scene in connection with the attack, officials said.

Investigators said at the time of the incident, Eric remained violent while deputies attempted to arrest him.

Lopinto said at the time of the incident, the boy suffered an apparent medical emergency during the arrest and became unresponsive.

He was taken to a local hospital, where he died.

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