Suspect in shooting of off-duty deputy arrested in Long Beach after confessing to his father in a church, officials say

Long Beach police on Tuesday detained a man suspected of shooting of an off-duty Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy a day earlier, leaving the deputy in grave condition, LASD announced.

The shooting occurred about 5:45 p.m. Monday at a Jack in the Box in Alhambra. The deputy, identified on Tuesday as Joseph Solano, was in civilian clothes, carrying no weapon or badge or anything else to reflect his law enforcement status, when the suspect approached and shot him once in the back of the head, sheriff’s officials said.

Authorities circulated surveillance photos of the suspect and his vehicle.

In a press conference hours after the arrest, officials identified the suspect as Rhett McKenzie Nelson, a 30-year-old man from St. George, Utah.

Officials said Nelson walked into a church on Clark Avenue, where he called his father in Utah.

“During that call, he referred to committing murder in Southern California, obviously concerning his father,” Capt. Kent Wegener said. “The father called Long Beach Police Department to report what his son had told him.”

LBPD did a reverse directory search on the phone number the father gave them and went to the church where they saw Nelson driving away from the church in the car that matched the description of the suspect vehicle, Wegener said.

Officers stopped the car at about 10:40 a.m. in the 2400 block of Granada Avenue, where Nelson pulled into a driveway, he said. He was detained without incident, according to Wegener.

Long Beach police set up a perimeter in the area where they detained a person of interest in the shooting of an off-duty Sheriff’s deputy at a fast food restaurant in Alhambra on June 11, 2019. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

In addition to matching the security camera video and photos, a hat and maroon shirt the suspect wore during the shooting were also “clearly visible” in the back seat of the car, Wegener said. Detectives served a search warrant and found a revolver matching the gun used in the shooting inside the car.

Nelson was taken into custody by sheriff’s officials at 1 p.m. today and hasn’t yet been interviewed by detectives, Wegener said. Homicide detectives still don’t know what the motive for the shooting was, but believe it was random.

Los Angeles police Chief Michel Moore said Nelson is also suspected ina separate fatal shooting that occurred about an hour earlier in the 1900 block of Seventh Street in the downtown area. That shooting, apparently done from inside a vehicle, left an unidentified 30-year-old man dead.

Sheriff’s officials said the deputy, 50, is in grave condition. Solano has been a deputy with LASD for 13 years and is from the Alhambra area. Sheriff Alex Villanueva described Solano as a “family man.”

“Our LASD family continues to persevere in the wake of the senseless shooting of our deputy,” Sheriff Alex Villaneuva said in a Twitter post on Monday night. “Our hearts & minds are solemnly united w/those who hold him dear. Whomever carried out this cowardly attack; we won’t rest until we find you & ensure justice is brought swiftly upon you.”

Authorities circulated surveillance photos of the suspect, who was described as white, 20-30 years old, and between 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-11. He wore a fedora and sunglasses during the shooting, but apparently changed his clothes and was last seen wearing a black T-shirt and black pants.

The suspect’s vehicle was described as a white four-door 2010-2014 Kia Sorento SUV with paper plates, said Deputy Morgan Arteaga of the Sheriff’s Information Bureau.

Barger urged anyone with information to call sheriff’s Detectives Eddie Aguirre and Antonio Guillen or Lt. Derrick Alfred at 323-890-5500.

City News Service contributed to this report. 

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Valerie Osier is a breaking news and crime reporter for the Long Beach Post. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from Cal State University, Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband, Steven, and her cat/child, Jones.