Utah Man Arrested in California for Shooting a Police Officer

A Utah man reported missing weeks ago has been arrested in California for shooting a police officer at a fast food restaurant.

Missing person with a weapon

Photo by: Marco Verch

30 year old Rhett McKenzie Nelson of St. George, Utah who was said to have been suffering a mental episode was reported missing by his family in May of 2019. A few weeks later, he walked into a Jack in the Box restaurant in Alhambra, California, pointed the gun at a restaurant customer’s head and pulled the trigger. There were no words exchanged between Nelson and the customer and it is unknown at this time if the attack was random or not. The customer shot turned out to be 50 year old Sheriff Deputy Joseph Solano who was in the restaurant in his civilian clothes. He was listed in critical condition and was said to have been on life support as of Monday evening. Just an hour before and several blocks away, another person was randomly shot and killed by a person matching Nelson’s description. Investigators do not have any motive to either shooting.

Shooting a police officer

The investigation is still active, yet Nelson is likely to face murder charges as well as charges for shooting a police officer in California. The charges will increase if the officer ends up not surviving. California, like Utah and other states throughout the nation has stricter penalties when an assault is made toward a police officer versus a regular citizen. According to Utah Code 76-5-102.4 however, the person faces stricter penalties when they “[commit] an assault or threat of violence against a peace officer, with knowledge that the person is a peace officer, and when the peace officer is acting within the scope of authority as a peace officer”. California Penal Code 240 also notes that penalties for assault of shooting a police officer are enhanced when the officer. . . “ is engaged in the performance of his or her duties.” It isn’t know if Nelson had any idea that the person he chose to shoot was a police officer or not. Even if Nelson hadn’t been suffering from a mental illness, He likely would not have known who his potential victim was. The officer wasn’t wearing his uniform or badge and in no way informed Nelson that he was an officer. Additionally, the officer wasn’t on the job when the shooting occurred. With the help of a qualified attorney, these factors along with Nelson’s mental health could be presented to help reduce the severity of the charges Nelson faces.

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