Swordsman killed by Modesto cop was mentally ill, mother says

Family members of Richard Phillip Robles Jr. say they remember him as a loving son and jokester who was handy around the house.

Polly Robles said Monday that her son struggled with mental illness, but was not violent. Recently, however, he seemed paranoid and told his mother, "They're after me. I'm not going to let them get me."

She said she has no idea why Robles apparently confronted a Modesto police officer with a samurai sword early Sunday. She said she thought Robles had gotten the sword from a family friend about three days ago.

Robles said she last saw her son, "Richie," on Saturday about 8 a.m., when he stopped by his parents' Modesto house to pick up mail and asked to borrow money. He said he planned to spend Saturday night at his ex-wife's house, but never showed up there.

Sunday afternoon, a police officer appeared on the Robleses' doorstep to say that their son was dead.

The family was shocked.

"He had his ups and downs, but we didn't expect that at all," his sister, Belen Robinson, said.

Robles, who turned 45 on Friday, was the father of a 17-year-old son and a beloved uncle to many nieces and nephews, family members said.

Confined to state hospital

Polly Robles said her son spent about a year in jail after a confrontation with a police officer. He was diagnosed with mental illness while he was incarcerated, she said. He was confined to Napa State Hospital, a mental health facility for patients with major mental illness.

Robles remembered a doctor calling her to ask permission to put her son in a straitjacket because he refused to take his medication.

Eventually, Richard Robles began taking his medication and his parents said they saw his behavior change for the better. By the time he was released from jail in May 2007, "He was doing great," his mother said.

Family members said that when Robles took his medication, he was outgoing and fun to be around. When he didn't, he would withdraw and isolate himself, Robinson said.

"I believe he was fighting demons that we couldn't see," Liz Esparza, another sister, said.

He was going through one such period recently. In the past month, Robles had lashed out at his parents, picking fights and accusing them of stealing from him, said Polly Robles. In recent weeks, he carried an oil painting of an angel with him everywhere. He refused to hand it over when his mother asked if she could have it.

Shortly after Christmas, Robles slashed the painting with a knife, his mother said.But that type of behavior was unusual, family members said.

On Monday afternoon, they sat in the Robles living room and laughed as they remembered their son and brother, a scrawny kid whom his brothers dubbed "The Hulk."

Robles had two sisters, three brothers, and more than a dozen nieces and nephews.

Robinson described her family as close-knit and loving. She said her parents, who owned two auto parts stores, raised their children to have good manners and work hard. Her brother was no exception, she said.

He held many jobs, most recently at a Mexican food distributor, said his mother.

"Any time we needed something fixed, we called him," Esparza said. Robles was good at fixing cars and recently painted his parents' house and remodeled the bathroom.

When Polly Robles spent four months in the hospital last year, it was Richie who showed up to visit her first every morning. She laughed recalling how he once brought her a paper hat adorned with fresh flowers. He liked to make people laugh, she said.

The sword-carrying man who encountered a Modesto police officer in the Sunday morning mist isn't the son she knew.

"This person that's gone, we don't know him," said Polly Robles, tears in her eyes.

She pointed at Richie's high school senior portrait on her living room wall and said, "That's my son. We knew him as a loving son. Always a smile on his face."

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at or 578-2378.

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