Solitro Jr.’s family demands systemic law enforcement and mental health care reform after his murder at the hands of the LAPD.
The Los Angeles Police Department continually ranks as one of the most deadly law enforcement agencies in the United States. This year, officers with the LAPD have shot at least 21 people, killing six. Several of the people shot were allegedly experiencing a mental health crisis, including an incident on Saturday, April 24, which peace officers responded to with deadly force.
Richard Solitro, Jr., 34, arrived in the Los Angeles area just a few weeks before his death. He lived in Rhode Island with his family, including his parents, children, and wife, Alexandria D’Angelo. She tells Knock LA that Solitro was a kind man with an incredible sense of humor. Like many other people, Solitro had struggled with his mental health, and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. D’Angelo says Solitro was experiencing psychosis and struggling with delusions. She and Solitro’s parents contacted several law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles, as well as Solitro’s home state of Rhode Island, in an attempt to get him assistance. No one helped them.
An LAPD statement 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. Officers fired multiple rounds striking Solitro at least three times, according to his family.
“They are trained to shoot to stop, as they say. But we all know that means shoot to kill,” says D’Angelo. “He might have had his hand behind his back, but he didn’t have a weapon. So you fucking blew him away before you even saw weapon. It’s disgusting … I’m going to be honest, I’m not going to stop until everyone in this country knows this side of the story, until they know that mental health care and law enforcement both need severe, mandatory, systemic change.”
D’Angelo first met Solitro in 2014 on eHarmony. “ I looked at his profile and I started talking to him a little bit and I said to my sister, ‘I think this is the man I’m going to marry,’ D’Angelo remembers. They spoke on the phone every night for one month, and went out on their first date on January 4, 2014. D’Angelo had recently had her first son, and Solitro had a six-year-old boy of his own. “He was very concerned with being a good dad. He was in a good place with his son’s mother. They were co-parenting,” says D’Angelo. “I said to myself, ‘You know what? This is a person to have in my life.” They married and welcomed a daughter to their family in 2015.
Solitro was a Rhode Island native who grew up in a close knit Italian-American family. He worked as a civil engineer designing green energy windmills, and built motorcycles from parts in his spare time. D’Angelo says that although he was a whiz with numbers, “he’d leave me a message on the whiteboard, like, call the chiropractor for me. And it’s spelled with a K.” Solitro also loved cooking with his family. Solitro, D’Angelo, and their kids would gather at his grandmother’s retirement community on Sundays to cook family recipes. He loved seafood the most. Solitro also enjoyed hosting parties at the family home, sparing no expense for the children. One summer he even bought them their own inflatable jumphouse.
D’Angelo initially didn’t know Solitro had struggled with his mental health. As the years went on, she says she saw signs of bipolar disorder. On December 9, 2018, in the midst of resolving a difficult family issue, D’Angelo says she saw Solitro experience a psychotic manic episode. At some point during the day, Solitro left the family’s house and began making strange telephone calls to her. D’Angelo tells Knock LA that she called local police for help locating him as she was afraid he would hurt himself. Around 8:30 PM, North Providence police officer Mathieu Florio arrived at D’Angelo and Solitro’s home. While Florio and D’Angelo discussed the situation, Solitro’s mother, Carol, arrived. Shortly after, Solitro drove up. D’Angelo says she and Solitro’s mother attempted to exit the house to speak with him, but Florio pushed past them, yelling and moving towards an agitated Solitro. D’Angelo says he was visibly disheveled and brandishing a prop gun. She told him to stop, and he turned to look at her. She says that Florio yelled at Solitro again. D’Angelo says that as he turned and lowered the weapon, Florio fired at Solitro, hitting him twice. North Providence Police maintain that Solitro pointed the replica at Florio.
Solitro was hit twice in the stomach. A grand jury found Florio’s actions to be legally justifiable, and he was cleared. Solitro was charged with felony assault. D’Angelo says that he was distraught over frightening Florio, and even wrote him a letter. “He felt so bad for that kid. But the real story was that he never pointed the gun.” Following the incident D’Angelo began reviewing Solitro’s medical records with her sister, who is a mental health professional. They found that Solitro had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder years prior. “Things started to connect and make sense. I decided that I was going to stay with him and that I was going to help him,” says D’Angelo. But the mental health care system was often frustrating. “Every possible barrier to getting [him] true help that there could possibly be, there was.”
D’Angelo says that Solitro experienced another psychotic episode in December 2019. While laughing together in the kitchen, Solitro coughed and expressed phlegm. “He looked at me and he said, ‘Do you see that?’ And he said, ‘That’s my grandma. She’s possessing me, she’s inside me.’ I laughed because I thought it was a joke and he didn’t laugh. My whole heart sank. From there, things got worse.” Solitro was working as a contractor, and D’Angelo says she was under the impression that he was working in the basement. She discovered he had been writing pages of manifestos instead. Solitro was placed into care at Our Lady of Fatima Hospital in Providence, R.I.. After his release, he struggled with his medication.
Once Solitro was off of his medication he began to have delusions. His family struggled to get him into another hospital program, but say that they were unable to get Solitro a bed as he was not an active threat to himself or others. After 24 hours of asking for help, D’Angelo says she and a friend of Solitro’s decided to lie and say that he was threatening to kill himself. D’Angelo also said she went to the station with her father to beg officers not to shoot him again. Solitro later told her that when he opened the door to the police, they were standing with their guns drawn.
Solitro was taken to Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence, R.I., and seen by at least three different doctors. Despite his prior history, D’Angelo says that Dr. John Findley did not agree with Solitro’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder and refused to treat him. He allegedly agreed to hold Solitro “as a favor to [D’Angelo].” The hospital did not return a request for comment before publication.
When Solitro was released, she says that she wasn’t ready for him to come live with her and the children, so he moved in with his mother. The couple remained on good terms, and Solitro kept up regular visits with the kids. In June 2020, they decided to break up but remain friends. A judge granted them a divorce in January 2021.
D’Angelo says she continued to maintain an active role in advocating for Solitro’s treatment. However, his medication still was not right. She says it even made his mania worse. On March 9, Solitro dropped off his young daughter’s car seat at D’Angelo’s house and drove from Rhode Island to Los Angeles, CA. “He felt like he had a special calling and he needed to write a book,” she says. “He said that they, whoever they are, told him that he would be able to get his book published in LA” She and the family immediately began reaching out to Solitro’s doctors. They also contacted law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department and the California Highway Patrol. The LAPD did not respond to a request for comment before publication. California Highway Patrol told Knock LA that they generally refer these calls to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The Solitro family also contacted several mental health organizations such as the Mental Health Advocacy Services and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, who did not respond to a request for comment before publication. “All we got was ‘Sorry we can’t help you, please try calling this organization.’ All these organizations, including Richard’s doctors, would do nothing,” says Solitro’s father, Richard Sr. “These mental health organizations would refer us back to the police who would then tell us they can’t do anything unless Richard has done something wrong.” A family friend even organized a crisis team to meet with Solitro, who said that he didn’t meet the criteria to be admitted.
On April 22, Solitro texted D’Angelo that he would be home soon and that he loved her and the children. He told his mother that he would be home that Sunday, but hadn’t decided if he would drive back or fly. “He and his family needed guidance and support which we never received,” his mother, Carol, said in a statement. “My son did not deserve to die this way.” D’Angelo says that she hopes Solitro’s death can be a catalyst for reform.
“It’s not necessarily that [the LAPD] didn’t do what they’re trained to do. It’s that what they’re trained to do is inadequate,” she says. “We need to figure out who we want to be as a country.”
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