He Escaped From Custody. Then, a Chase and Gunfire

Ex-deputy Aaron Russell charged with 2nd-degree murder of unarmed man in San Diego
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 14, 2020 9:25 AM CDT
Ex-Deputy Who Opened Fire on Fleeing Man Is Charged
A San Diego County Sheriff's Department officer, center, looks on as people protest measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus on May 1, 2020, in San Diego.   (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

A California sheriff's deputy has been charged with murder after shooting an unarmed man who'd escaped from a park ranger's car. Aaron Russell, 23, was arrested Monday and booked into San Diego County Jail on charges of second-degree murder, which could result in 15 years to life in prison. The former detentions deputy was arriving for work at the jail on May 1 when Nicholas Bils, 36, slipped out of a handcuff, put his arm through the open window of a park ranger's car, opened the door from the outside, and started running, per the San Diego Union-Tribune. Russell chased Bils before opening fire. An attorney for Bils' family says the 36-year-old was shot "in the left arm, the flank, and in the back" while running away. Bils had been arrested for assault with a deadly weapon earlier that day after allegedly threatening rangers with a golf club at a state park, per KNSD.

Bils' mother, Kathleen, told KNSD that her son, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, would hit a ball with a golf putter while walking his dog. She added he didn't understand public health orders blocking access to state parks amid the coronavirus pandemic. Russell, who resigned in the days after the shooting, had been with the department for 18 months. He's to be arraigned Tuesday in San Diego Superior Court. Bail is set at $1 million. San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said Monday that the shooting was reviewed under a new law stating law enforcement can use deadly force only when "necessary," such as when a life is in danger, and when no other options are available. Previously, deadly force was permitted with "reasonable" fear of imminent harm. Surveillance video is being withheld, as it's considered evidence in the pending case. (More murder stories.)

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