Ex-San Diego Deputy Charged With Murder in Escapee Shooting

Investigators say a man who had escaped custody was running away when former deputy Aaron Russell shot him at least four times, including once in the back.

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A former San Diego County Sheriff's Department deputy accused of shooting and killing a mentally ill man who had escaped custody outside the downtown jail in May has been charged with second-degree murder, the San Diego District Attorney's Office confirmed Monday.

Nicholas Bils, 36, escaped a California State Park Officer's car outside the San Diego Central Jail and was running away from rangers when he was shot, according to the San Diego Police Department, which is investigating the shooting.

The man escaped custody at the gate of the jail but was shot before he could get away.

Nicholas Bils’ mother Kathleen Bils told NBC 7 her son was a paranoid schizophrenic who was afraid of law enforcement. She said detectives told her former deputy Aaron Russell shot her son four times; one bullet grazed his side and three entered his body, including one in his back.

Russell, 23, was arrested on a warrant Monday. Russell resigned from the sheriff's department on May 6, five days after the deadly shooting, after 18 months with the department.

"We reached the decision to file criminal charges following a thorough review of all the objective facts and evidence in this case by specialized prosecutors and investigators in our Special Operations Division," said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. "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. 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."

Russell is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday. If convicted, Russell faces 15 years to life in prison.

According to Kathleen Bils, police said her son was putting golf balls at the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park when rangers approached him and told him he couldn’t have his dog off-leash and that the park was closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

Detectives said he swung a golf putter near the rangers, ran away, and that the rangers jumped into their cars to chase her son before finally arresting him for assault with a deadly weapon. They said the rangers put him into a truck with the windows partially rolled down – which is how he eventually managed to escape as the truck pulled into the county jail.

Investigators told NBC 7 there is no body camera footage of the shooting because deputies who work at the downtown jail aren’t issued body cameras – a policy that the sheriff’s department said it was reviewing following the incident. 

Nicholas Bils was running away when a sheriff's deputy shot and killed him last week, reports NBC Investigates' Alexis Rivas.

To read more about the shooting of Nicholas Bils, click here.

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