LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Shot, “Fighting For His Life,” Suspected Shooter in Custody

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

A 30-year-old Utah man has been arrested in the Monday night shooting of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Gilbert Solano, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva who—together with homicide Capt. Kent Wegener—announced the arrest at a 3 p.m. press conference on Tuesday.

At approximately 5:45 p.m. Monday night, Solano, who was off-duty at the time, was “tragically and senselessly shot in the head,” said Villanueva in an earlier press conference.

LASD Deputy Joseph Gilbert Solano

Deputy Solano, 50, who is now reportedly in grave condition, but who “continues to fight for his life,” says Sheriff Villanueva, is a 13-year-veteran of the LASD who works in the department’s custody division.

After dropping his mother’s car off at a nearby Jiffy Lube, Solano was standing in line, waiting for food, inside a Jack in the Box fast food restaurant at the 2500 block of W. Valley Blvd, Alhambra, when the suspect approached from the rear and fired the single shot to the back of the deputy’s head.

The deputy was in casual clothing when he was shot, with nothing identifying him as law enforcement. He was rushed immediately to County-USC Medical Center, which is where he remains.

The shooting was captured on video, so authorities were able to quickly blast out a description of the man, who initially was described as a male white adult, 20-30 years old, 5’09-5’11, wearing a burgundy short-sleeved button-down shirt, slim blue jeans, a light fedora hat, and sunglasses, and was armed with a handgun.

Then, based on images from a local security camera, investigators came to believe the suspect changed his clothing out of the burgundy shirt, hat, and jeans shortly after the incident, into a black t-shirt and black jeans.

Along with the physical descriptions of the suspect and his clothing,  the LASD also sent out photos of the suspect’s car, a 2012 Kia Sorento.

The suspect, now identified as 30-year-old Rhett Mckenzie Nelson, was taken into custody without incident after Long Beach police spotted his car pulling out of a church parking lot in the Long Beach area.  Police found a revolver inside the Sorrento, along with the hat, burgundy shirt, and jeans Nelson appeared to be wearing during the shooting captured on video.

Nelson is from St. George, Utah, and, according to officials, he is believed to have shot and killed another man approximately an hour before allegedly shooting Deputy Solano.

Nelson’s father reportedly contacted the Long Beach Police after his son—who was considered a missing person in Utah—called him from the church and, allegedly, confessed to the two shootings.

Photo of suspect in first shirt and jean

Possible suspect in second set of clothing

“Our #LASD family continues to persevere in the wake of the senseless shooting of our deputy,” Sheriff Villanueva tweeted late Monday night.

“Our hearts & minds are solemnly united w/those who hold him dear.”

On Tuesday morning, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS) offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension and/or conviction of the suspect(s) responsible for the shooting.
At their Tuesday meeting, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved $50,000, making the reward total $100,000.
“This brazen, brutal attack, on one of our fellow deputies, has left our deputies and the law enforcement community outraged,” said ALADS President Ron Hernandez.  “The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs greatly appreciates the outpouring of support from the public and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.”
We must now “have faith in the legal process as the investigation continues,” the sheriff tweeted on Tuesday night.  “However, during this time, I ask everyone who can, to pray for Deputy Solano & his family.”
Anyone with additional information about this incident is being asked to contact the sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500.


In other painful news, longtime LAPD Officer II Esmeralda Ramirez, 49, died Sunday, after complications arose in a surgery that was intended to repair an injury that was related to injuries sustained in a 2015 traffic collision that occurred when another car slammed into her patrol car while she was on duty.  Ramirez, who worked at Pacific Division, joined the department in 2008, and was the mother of three adult children, according to the LAPD.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated multiple times as new facts became available.


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