Officers with the Los Angeles Police Department shot and killed Richard Solitro, Jr. at the intersection of Sunset and Fairfax in the Hollywood neighborhood last Saturday, April 24. Solitro was in the midst of an episode of psychosis brought on by his bipolar disorder. He left his home in Rhode Island on March 9, and drove across the United States to Los Angeles on what he believed to be a divine mission. Once he was located his family tried for weeks to get him help and bring him home, contacting law enforcement agencies and mental health organizations on both coasts. No one helped them.
A statement from the department says that officers were “cut off en route to an emergency” by Solitro’s black sedan. Solitro “suddenly pulled in front of them and stopped,” then “placed his vehicle in reverse and ran into the police car.” The department says that Solitro, who was unarmed, then jumped out of the car and walked toward officers with his right hand behind his back.
Hailly Korman, a civil rights attorney, witnessed the incident from her car and says what she saw will stay with her for the rest of her life.
Korman was celebrating being fully vaccinated against the coronavirus with a massage from Sogang Acupuncture & Massage located at 7779 Sunset Blvd. She tells Knock LA that she pulled out of the driveway of the business around 2:30 PM. Before she was able to exit, a police car with lights and sirens drove by her. As she turned on to Sunset Boulevard she saw that the officers who had been driving were standing on either side of the car, which had its doors open. Korman also observed a person in dark clothing on the other side of the patrol vehicle’s door. She also heard gunshots ring out. “I was in the street… and in almost that same instant I heard gunshots and I could see bullets. All within the span of like three seconds straight and registering that, I hear three gunshots and I watch that third person knocked off his feet.”
Korman says she immediately began looking for a way to get as far away as possible from the killing she had just witnessed. “I can’t keep driving. The cops are going to see me as a threat,” she recalls. Korman estimates that 10 seconds passed between the police car speeding in front of her and the time she heard the gunshots. She says she was disturbed by the lack of reaction from people around her that also witnessed the shooting, adding that cars continued to drive through the intersection of Sunset and Fairfax. She says she struggled to grasp what happened because so many people continued on as normal. “Nobody’s reacting. I felt like, are they filming something? I’ve heard gunshots before and I’ve seen a dead person before, and I’ve never seen someone be killed. It looks the way it looks in a movie. And it almost was like, too real.” Others came out of surrounding businesses to get a better look at what had happened. Korman says she saw a Hollywood tour bus turn around to give its passengers a better look.
Korman took a right on Orange Grove Drive and headed north to Selma Ave. She turned left and headed back down Crescent Heights Blvd, navigating around what she had just witnessed. As she drove, she heard sirens and helicopters approaching. Korman continued south and saw Solitro’s vehicle, which she initially thought may have been part of some kind of production. Solitro had placed vinyl lettering on the body of the car spelling out phrases like “I’m a Rickstar,” “Unity 4 Team Humanity,” and “New World Order Women Rule.” Korman believed the appearance of the car would have alerted authorities to Solitro’s mental state. “By looking at that car you could make some inferences that there might be something more going on for him that I would hope might lead anybody, especially an agent of the government who we entrust with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, to make a better judgment call about the right intervention, especially in the heat of the moment,” she says. “I might not make the very best decision in the heat of the moment, because I’m just a person. I don’t have that job. I haven’t gotten that training. I’m not trusted with that responsibility. I think police should be held to a higher standard.”
Korman is a civil rights attorney and Senior Associate Partner at Bellwether Education Partners, an educational non-profit, where she frequently works with incarcerated youth. She says the justice system is often tasked with acting as a mental health provider for people who may be struggling. Solitro’s wife and parents said they contacted multiple organizations seeking help for him while he was in Los Angeles, but the organizations ultimately redirected them to contact law enforcement. “The justice system ends up being the landing place for people with mental illness. And we sort of engage in this fiction that that’s what they’re doing saying like, ‘People will get treatment while they’re incarcerated.’ And that’s almost never true … I’ve yet to see any evidence that cops are providing any of the things that people actually need.”
Korman is deeply unsettled by what she witnessed. “This is a person who needed help, wanted help, had family who wanted to help him, family who asked for help. And all he ever got were guns pulled on him.” She says she is upset by the implications of Solitro’s death. “The police made the wrong call. They got it wrong… you just have to accept sometimes they’re going to get it wrong and we just live like this? It’s absurd.”
Korman requested time away from work in order to process the killing. She says that she has not been contacted by law enforcement, and hesitated to reach out with her account because that would put her “in the place of like coming into more contact with the very people who [she feels] are the most threatening.” Korman says that when she went to sleep on Saturday night, she felt even more vulnerable. “You live in America, eventually you’re going to watch someone get shot and killed. Or it’ll be you.”
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