An off-duty LAPD officer went on the run after fatally shooting a man on a Pomona street as the victim was trying to get away, a prosecutor told jurors Monday, while a defense attorney countered that the rookie officer fired in self-defense while trying to arrest the man, who had assaulted and robbed him.
Henry Solis, 32, is charged with one count each of murder and assault with a firearm, along with gun allegations, in connection with the March 13, 2015, shooting death of 23-year-old Salome Rodriguez Jr.
Solis, who worked at the LAPD’s Devonshire Division in the San Fernando Valley, was fired soon after becoming the subject of an extensive weeks-long manhunt that ended with his arrest in Mexico. The ex-Marine had been on the force for about four months at the time of the shooting.
“You can run … but you can’t hide,” Deputy District Attorney Martha Carrillo told jurors as she began her opening statement.
She said witnesses would testify that Rodriguez went to Carnaval, a club in downtown Pomona, to see a dancer that he liked. After that club closed at 2 a.m., a group went down the street to grab pizza.
“There was no problem, no problem with anyone,” Carrillo said.
Later that night, Rodriguez left his friend passed out in a car and headed further down the block to a second club, Vive Lounge. the prosecutor said. Solis was also outside the club, talking to a woman who will testify that “she (started) to get a bad feeling from him,” according to Carrillo.
A man collecting cans across the street will also testify that “the defendant looked like he wanted to pick a fight, like he was angry,” she told jurors.
Video surveillance cameras along the street picked up much of the interaction between the two men, but not the shooting itself. Solis can be seen “pushing, pushing, assaulting Mr. Rodriguez,” who was “walking away from the defendant … trying to get away,” Carrillo said.
Even provoked, Rodriguez did not fight back and had his hands out to signal that he wanted to be left alone, according to the prosecutor.
The confrontation moved down the street, where a criminal defense attorney who lives nearby heard four shots. Rodriguez was struck by four bullets, including an ultimately fatal shot to his thigh that lacerated two critical veins.
The mortally wounded victim can be seen in the footage “crawling away from Solis” and then “running for his life,” trying to get back to where his friend was parked, Carrillo said.
The prosecutor showed jurors a photo of Rodriguez, one pant leg drenched in blood, lying on the ground next to his friend’s car. His friend never knew what happened until police woke him up, according to Carrillo.
After the shooting, Solis called his roommate, Laura Rosales, who worked for the Pomona Police Department.
At a March 2015 hearing in which Solis was ordered to stand trial, Rosales testified that the rookie officer was drunk that night and that he told her, “I killed somebody.”
Rosales said Solis called her at 3:35 a.m. March 13 and asked her to pick him up at a bar on Third Street, then called her back and told her to meet him on a residential street about six blocks away from the tavern.
When she tried to drive home the most direct route, down Garey Avenue, “he grabbed my steering wheel” and told her to take another way home, the witness said. “He just seemed like he was a little bit out of breath, he seemed like a little bit paranoid.”
She said Solis kept repeating that he had messed up, using a expletive, and threatened to kill himself. Then, standing in their kitchen, he told her he had taken a life, to which she said, “Stop! You. No, you didn’t.”
Carrillo told jurors’ “Justice will end with you. Justice in this case … is (finding Solis) guilty of murder in the first-degree with deliberation and premeditation.”
Defense attorney Bradley Brunon said there was only one question for the jury to settle: “Did Mr. Solis shoot Mr. Rodriguez in self-defense?” Brunon said the panel should consider the state of mind of a young officer on the job for only four months in a larger context where “there are groups in the community whose purpose is to challenge the police, denigrate the police.”
He stressed Solis’ “exemplary character,” noting his good conduct medal and honorable discharge from the Marines, as well as his work as a Marine security guard at an unnamed embassy.
“Mr. Solis passed all of that vetting, received a secret security clearance,” Brunon said.
His client “excelled in the (LAPD) academy, was named a squad leader” and was responsible for mentoring other cadets, he told jurors, citing his client’s self-control and discipline.
The defense attorney pointed out that Rodriguez was “a big man,” 6-foot-3 and roughly 260-280 pounds as compared with Solis, who Brunon pegged at 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds. Jail records show Solis as 5-foot-11.
At Vive, Rodriguez “assaulted Mr. Solis and robbed him,” Brunon alleged. The defense attorney told jurors that Rodriguez followed his client into a bathroom stall, knocked him to the floor and hit him in the back of the head before stealing his money and his gun.
“The money he could do without, he had to try to recover the gun,” the defense attorney said.
After the assault, Solis went looking in the neighborhood for Rodriguez and when he turned up outside the club, “Mr. Solis spent 20 minutes trying to persuade Mr. Rodriguez that he was under arrest,” Brunon said.
Rodriguez was belligerent and had his hands out challenging Solis to “go ahead and shoot me,” according to the defense attorney. “He grabs for Mr. Solis’ gun. He can’t get it. And then he rushes him. Now Solis knows `this is life or death … if he knocks me out, he’ll kill me.”’
While the prosecution says an expert will testify that Rodriguez was on the ground when the fatal shot was fired, Brunon said the reason Rodriguez was shot in the thigh was that Solis was on the ground and Rodriguez was trying to stomp on him.
“That’s the only way it could have happened,” Brunon said. “That big man could have stomped him to death … that’s self-defense.”
The defense attorney acknowledged that his client “panicked and left,” but reminded the jury that “flight does not make a lawful act unlawful.”
Solis’ father drove him out of state and later told federal authorities that he had dropped his son off at a Texas bus stop, but the pair were caught on surveillance video walking across the Mexico border, authorities said.
Solis was arrested in May 2015 by Mexican authorities in the border city of Juarez and deported to the United States. He had been staying with relatives in the Juarez area prior to his arrest, FBI officials said.
Solis’ father, Victor, was convicted by a federal jury in El Paso of lying to the FBI about helping his son escape. He was sentenced to three years probation and fined $1,000.