Former San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputy Charged With Murder After Fatal Shooting

(CN) — A former San Diego County Sheriff’s Department officer was arrested and charged with murder Monday for fatally shooting an unarmed man with a mental illness who had fled from a police vehicle outside a downtown jail.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office charged former officer Aaron Russell, 23, with one count of second-degree murder in connection to shooting outside San Diego Central Jail.

In the May 1 incident, Nicholas Bils, 36, had escaped from a California State Parks officer’s car and was running away, unarmed, when Russell shot him, according to the district attorney’s office.

Bils was putting golf balls at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park when California State Parks rangers arrested him for having his dog off-leash and being in the park that was closed due to Covid-19 safety restrictions, according to the San Diego Police Department, which is investigating the shooting.

Bils had schizophrenia, a serious mental illness, according to statements made to the media by his mother, Kathleen Bils, who also told reporters detectives explained that her son was shot multiple times, including once in the back.

Russell had been with the department for a little over a year and resigned days after the shooting.

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said in a statement Monday the decision to criminally charge Russell came after an “objective” review of the facts in the case.

“When a life is taken, we must make decisions based in facts and law, and not ones that are influenced by the status of the accused as a peace officer nor the status of the victim,” Stephan said. “These decisions must be made solely in the interest of justice and not based on favoritism nor public opinion.  Every person must be accountable under the law.” 

If convicted on the second-degree murder charge, Russell could face 15 years to life in prison, according the district attorney.

Stephan’s office said the May 1 fatal shooting was reviewed under new, stricter deadly use of force standards laid out in California Assembly Bill 392, adding “the new law provides that deadly force is only justified when necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person.”

While video of the fatal shooting does exist, Stephan’s office said it will not release it at this time since it is now evidence in the pending criminal case.

“Video is expected to be entered into evidence during open court proceedings,” the district attorney’s office said in the statement. 

On Monday, San Diego County law enforcement executed an arrest warrant for Russell, whose bail is set at $1 million.

The former sheriff’s deputy is expected to be arraigned Tuesday at 9 a.m. in Department 2002 of San Diego Superior Court.

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