San Diego prosecutors have charged a former sheriff's deputy with second-degree murder after he fatally shot a suspect who was fleeing a park ranger's vehicle.
Nicholas Bils, 36, was arrested by park rangers on May 1, but slipped out of his handcuffs and exited the vehicle.
A sheriff's deputy who spotted the escape opened fire, killing Bils, police said.
Bils' mother told KNSD that her son was mentally ill, had an extreme fear of police and likely didn't understand why park rangers were arresting him in the first place.
A San Diego County sheriff's deputy has been charged with second-degree murder after fatally shooting an unarmed suspect who was fleeing from a park ranger's vehicle after slipping out of his handcuffs.
Aaron Russell, 23, opened fire on May 1 while chasing 36-year-old Nicholas Bils down a street outside a courthouse, the San Diego County District Attorney's Office said in a statement.
Bils was arrested earlier that day by park rangers, after a dispute at the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Bils' mother, Kathleen Bils, told the local NBC affiliate KNSD that the park rangers had confronted her son because the park was supposed to be closed due to coronavirus concerns.
During the confrontation, Bils swung a golf club near the rangers and then tried to run away, his mother told the news station.
Kathleen Bils said her son has a history of mental illness and was a paranoid schizophrenic with a severe fear of police.
When the rangers caught up with Bils and arrested him, they placed him inside their truck with the windows partially rolled down, Bils' mother said.
He escaped the vehicle by slipping one wrist out of his handcuffs and reaching through the open window to open the truck door from the outside, according to police.
That's when Russell and another deputy spotted Bils escape and decided to chase him down, ultimately firing four shots at him.
"I have to bury my son and I want to know why he's dead," Kathleen Bils told KNSD in May. "Why? Why is my son dead? He was mentally ill. It's not his fault he doesn't understand."
Russell resigned from the sheriff's department on May 6, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. He was arrested July 13 and is being held on $1 million bail, according to the district attorney's office.
If convicted, Russel could face a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.
The district attorney's office said a new law took effect in California this year setting a higher standard for police officers' use of deadly force. Officers can only use deadly force "when necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person," the office said.
"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," District Attorney Summer Stephan said in a statement. "Every person must be accountable under the law."
The district attorney's office said there is surveillance video of the incident, but it won't be released until open court proceedings in case it jeopardizes Russell's right to a fair trial.
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