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After confronting a threat, Deputy Joseph Solano remembered for his courage and kindness

May Lau, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- Joseph Gilbert Solano had just gotten off work around 5 p.m. when he stepped out of uniform and ran an errand for his mother.

Working in a profession known to be dangerous, he was trained to be alert to threats posed to deputy sheriffs like him.

But the 50-year-old's life was cut short after an attack that might have happened to anyone, when he was shot once in the head Monday at a fast-food restaurant while waiting in line in civilian clothing.

He died Wednesday afternoon, two days after being put on life support after the frighteningly random outburst by a gunman in a Jack in the Box in Alhambra, right next to the place where he was getting the oil changed in his mother's car.

The suspected shooter, Rhett McKenzie Nelson, 30, was charged Thursday with two counts of murder after allegedly killing Solano and another man, Dmitry Alekseyevich Kolstov, in a separate shooting earlier Monday that also seemed to be arbitrary.

Solano, who served 13 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, is recalled by loved ones and coworkers as a hero who died while confronting a threat.


Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Solano was alerted in the restaurant that someone was following him, prompting him to face up to the gunman just before being shot.

It was Solano's mixture of courage and kindness that left an impression, loved ones and coworkers said. Assigned to a specialized unit within the department's Access to Care Bureau, his job required transporting particularly dangerous inmates or those who needed protection from themselves or others.

"He had that type of personality where he commanded respect but was also respectful. It takes that mild-mannered personality to gain cooperation from inmates," said his captain, Tania Plunkett. "He had that ability to deescalate and not let every little thing get underneath his skin."

Another supervisor, Deputy Juan Rodriguez, said Solano's maturity factored into the decision to give him the special assignment, which also involved making sure that inmates got to their medical appointments at L.A. County-USC Medical Center, the same hospital where Solano was treated for his gunshot wound.


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