Mother of unarmed man fatally shot outside downtown jail sues county, deputy involved

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A wrongful death lawsuit was filed Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, on behalf of the mother of Nicholas Bils who was fatally shot outside the downtown San Diego jail earlier this year by a former San Diego County sheriff’s deputy. The alleged shooter, 24-year-old Aaron Russell, is accused of firing on an unarmed Bils while the victim was running away from law enforcement officers.

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A wrongful death lawsuit was filed Monday on behalf of the mother of a man who was fatally shot outside the downtown San Diego jail earlier this year by a former San Diego County sheriff’s deputy, who has been charged with second-degree murder.

Aaron Russell, 23, seen at his video arraignment, is charged in the May 1 death of 36-year-old Nicholas Bils, who was unarmed and running away from officers when he was shot just outside the San Diego Central Jail, according to the San Diego County District Attorney's Office.
Aaron Russell, 24, seen at his video arraignment, is charged in the May 1 death of 36-year-old Nicholas Bils, who was unarmed and running away from officers when he was shot just outside the San Diego Central Jail, according to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.

Nicholas Bils, 36, was shot multiple times on May 1 upon being taken to the downtown jail and fleeing from a patrol car.

The alleged shooter, 24-year-old Aaron Russell, is accused of firing on an unarmed Bils while the victim was running away from law enforcement officers, leading to the rare decision to prosecute a lawman in an officer-involved shooting.

The former deputy, who had been with the department for 18 months, resigned from the sheriff’s department shortly after the shooting and was charged about two months later.

The lawsuit filed in San Diego federal court on behalf of Bils’ mother, Kathleen Bils, alleges her son suffered from longstanding mental health issues and was terrified of police, which may have played a role in his flight.

The defendants listed in the complaint are Russell, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, two unidentified park rangers who arrested Bils and San Diego County.

Bils was initially arrested at about 4 p.m. May 1 at Old Town State Park, where he was hitting golf balls for his dog to fetch, according to the lawsuit.

Two California State Parks rangers told Bils he couldn’t be in the park due to COVID-19 restrictions and Bils, “terrified, ran from the park rangers,” who gave chase, arrested him and claimed he had brandished a golf club at them.

The lawsuit alleges he “never came close to striking” the rangers, then was arrested on suspicion of a crime when he should have been taken to a mental health care facility.

The suit also alleges the rangers did not properly handcuff Bils, didn’t properly lock their car door and left the window open next to Bils’ seat, all of which allowed him to flee from their patrol vehicle outside the jail.

Once free, Bils — who was “clearly unarmed” — ran and was shot in the back, arm and thigh, with the fatal bullet piercing his heart, the lawsuit states.

Upon bringing charges against Russell, a prosecutor earlier this year said Russell was the sole law enforcement officer on scene who drew his weapon during the incident.

The lawsuit echoes this claim, alleging another deputy and the two rangers did not pull out their firearms while Bils fled, nor did they express Bils “as posing an imminent threat of causing death or serious bodily injury to themselves or others.”

The suit alleges Bils’ death was part and parcel of a countywide “systemic failure” to properly investigate deaths caused by sheriff’s deputies, or to properly supervise, train or discipline deputies regarding use of force.

Russell is out of custody on bail and next due in court Jan. 25 for a preliminary hearing, during which a judge will hear evidence and rule whether he will be tried on the murder charge.

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