“We would like to see this tragedy as a catalyst for mental health care reform,” said Alexandria D’Angelo, the spouse of Richard Solitro Jr, who was shot and killed by Los Angles Police officers this past weekend. “Richard had challenges with his mental health and had previously been injured by law enforcement. We believe this tragedy could have been avoided. Persons suffering from mental illness and/or addiction are not criminals. They need help. They should not be ignored, marginalized, or forgotten.”
The family of 34-year-old Richard Solitro Jr did not know he was in Los Angeles until fairly recently. Understanding his history of mental illness, they reached out to him, trying to get him to come home. In his last communication with his family, Richard said he would be coming home, but then, over the weekend, he was shot and killed by Los Angeles Police officers. Richard was wearing body armor, but did not have a weapon. It wasn’t the first time Richard had been in an altercation with police officers. In 2018 he was shot by police in North Providence, Rhode Island when he pointed a toy gun at officers.
On Monday, his family made a public statement about their beloved husband, father and son. They chose to hold a press conference outside Our Lady of Fatima Hospital because they appreciated the quality care Richard received there.
“It is my sincere hope that Rick’s life was not lost in vain,” continued D’Angelo. “I would hope we could improve our systems to treat mental illness more appropriately, and compassionately heed the cries for help, not just from those afflicted, but also from family, and friends who advocate for loved ones to get the help they need and deserve. This unfortunate tragedy should also be a wake up call to equip law enforcement with appropriate tools to address these situations in the future.”
The family released a statement from Michelle L McGuire, Director of Clinical Services at the Ocean State Counseling and Wellness Center, who noted that Richard’s death is part of a new mental health crisis.
“Too many first responders are sent into the field with limited training or experience working with mental illness. They are forced to make emergency decisions without proper back-up from informed providers,” writes McGuire. “We are also faced with mental health providers being discounted by insurance and government which discourages students from entering the field and forces current practitioners to work longer hours resulting in high rates of clinical burnout.”
The difficulty of getting help for a family member in need was made clear by Richard’s father, who also spoke to the press today.
“We reached out to ten different mental health organizations here in Rhode Island and several in Los Angeles,” said Richard Solitro Sr. “All of these organizations, including Richard’s doctors, would do nothing to get him into a hospital. We continued to get the same answer – Unless Richard does something to himself or another person, there is nothing that we can do…
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“The Los Angeles police were called by us on several occasions about our son’s mental health issues and they would do nothing. We had a friend of our family in Los Angeles who is a psychiatrist, meet with our son on several occasions and he tired to get him help through the crisis unit in Los Angeles. They came out to meet with him and told us he didn’t meet criteria to be brought to the hospital.
“And now here we are, our 34-year-old son who was unarmed when he was shot to death by LAPD. We need answers on why this happened – why the system that was put in place to protect us is killing us…”
The family hopes that this tragedy will remind legislators about “the importance of funding mental health services, reinforce the need for practical training of first responders, and encourage those that are struggling to seek treatment before they become desperate.”
Richard Solitro Jr is the father of three children.
Update (05/01/2021): A previous version of this article stated that Solitro was previously shot by North Smithfield police. He was shot by North Providence police.