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Police aware of Utah man’s gun possession, mental health issues weeks before CA deputy was shot

Posted at 4:16 PM, Jun 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-12 21:09:13-04

UPDATE: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office Deputy Joseph Solano, who was shot by Rhett Nelson, has died.

ST. GEORGE, Utah – A Utah man was reported missing weeks before he allegedly shot and killed two people in Southern California.

Just two weeks ago, on May 28, 30-year-old Rhett Nelson was reported missing to St. George Police.

“[The family] contacted the police department on the 27th to notify us that Rhett Nelson had left the residence inexplicably,” said Capt. Mike Giles with the St. George Police Department.

Fast forward to Tuesday, June 12 – Nelson is behind bars, accused of killing one person in a Los Angeles neighborhood and then shooting an off-duty police officer at a Jack in the Box restaurant, just one hour and 15 blocks later.

“One of our own deputies, Deputy Joseph Solano, 50-years of age, was tragically shot in the head and is currently in grave condition on life support,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said during a press conference Tuesday.

The LACSD announced Solano died Wednesday evening.

Now looking back, SGPD said when the missing person’s report was filed — they had no reason to believe Nelson was dangerous.

“He wasn’t posing a threat to himself or someone else,” Giles said.

But based on new information, it appears as though there were signs for concern.

Police said the family had reported strange behavior amid their initial call to police on May 27.

“In departing [Nelson] somehow communicated with the family that he wanted to make it on his own or die,” Giles said.

Police also knew that Nelson had a firearm.

“We’d been informed that he took a firearm with him, but again the family believed he was taking that with him for self-defense,” Giles continued.

The family also expressed concerns over Nelson’s mental health on more than one occasion.

“Their concern was his mental well-being,” said Giles.

Yet, SGPD said there was nothing further they could do.

“The officer did inquire about specific diagnosis and there wasn’t any formal diagnosis at that time,” Giles said.

“Part of Utah law, when it comes to dealing with people that are suffering with mental health issues, places restrictions on what law enforcement can and can’t do as far as forcible treatment or recommendations of treatment,” Giles said. “The circumstances, in this case, didn’t come close to that.”

The family contacted SGPD officers again on June 5, to alert them that Nelson had called them the day prior and let them know he was in California.

“Again, they expressed some concerns about his mental health and former drug use,” Giles said.

Nelson’s missing person’s case was closed that day.

“We learned that Rhett wasn’t even in the state, we had no concerns,” said Giles.

Five days later, the two shootings took place. Nelson was arrested the next day.

“A suspect went into a church in the city of Long Beach on Clark Avenue, from that church he called his father in St. George, Utah, during the call he referred to committing murder in Southern California,” said Homicide Capt. Ken Wegener with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, as he described the events that led to Nelson’s arrest.

Nelson was taken into custody by police in California on Tuesday. Los Angeles law enforcement said the investigation is still ongoing and they have reason to believe Nelson may have been involved in even more crimes since he got to the state.

Anyone with information regarding Rhett Nelson may contact homicide investigators at 323-890-5500.