METAIRIE, La. — The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office made a rare public statement regarding an active litigation immediately after a lawsuit filing today in the Eastern District of Louisiana titled Parsa v. Sheriff Joseph P. Lopinto, III, et al.
The lawsuit stems from an incident on Jan. 19, 2020, when JPSO deputies responded to a bystander’s call of an assault by autistic teenager Eric Parsa against his father in the parking lot of the Westgate Shopping Center. The JPSO calls the assault a “violent attack,” in which the teen “beat and bit his father, causing significant visible bloody injuries.”
However, according to the lawsuit, the 16-year-old boy died of suffocation while being restrained by deputies. The lawsuit targets Jefferson Parish Sherff Joseph Lopinto, as well as the individual deputies involved in the incident.
The parents, Donna Lou and Daren Parsa, claim that a deputy in excess of 300 pounds used his body weight to pin their son on his stomach in a prone position, with his face on the parking lot pavement, for more than nine minutes. The Parsas say Eric was calm and not resisting arrest, and only when the youth urinated on himself did the deputy allow him to assume a “recovery position.” By then, they say Eric was unresponsive, and he later died at a hospital.
The parents’ lawsuit says that in addition to an “acute psychotic episode,” the Jefferson Parish Coroner listed Eric’s “prone positioning” as a contributing factor in his death. The death was classified as an accident.
In a statement released today, almost a year after the incident (Jan. 14, 2020), the JPSO denies any intentional wrongdoing that could have resulted in the teen’s death, and expresses sorrow and for what the department call’s an “unfortunate loss of life.”
The JPSO statement reads:
“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.”
Others named in the suit with Lopinto, include Deputy Chad Pitfield, Deputy Ryan Vaught, Deputy Steven Mehrtens, Deputy Shannon Guidry, Deputy Nick Vega, Deputy Manuel Estrada, Deputy Myron Gaudet and three other unknown deputies named as “John Doe Deputies 1-3.”