San Diego County Pays $8.1 Million Following a Sheriff Deputy’s Fatal Shooting of an Unarmed Man

On May 1st, 2020, 36-year-old Nicholas Bils was arrested by two State Park rangers at the historic Old Town State Park in San Diego. Bils, who suffered from schizophrenia, was pitching golf balls for his dog to chase. According to the lawsuit filed by Bils family, rangers arrested Bils because his dog was off leash, and golfing was banned in the park. The lawsuit additionally stated that Bils allegedly brandished a golf club at the rangers.


After making the arrest, Bils was handcuffed and taken to the downtown jail on Front Street at B Street. However, Bils managed to slip out of his handcuffs and open the car door through a window. At a stop, Bils jumped out of the car in an attempt to run away.


Sherriff deputy Aaron Russell and another deputy were on their way into work when they say Bils escape from the vehicle. Russell immediately began to pursue Bils, eventually drawing his weapon and opening fire onto Bis. Bils was hit a total of four times in the back and side, Bils injuries were fatal. According to records, Russell was one of three officers on scene, but was the only one who drew his firearm. Russell has been a deputy for 18 months and worked exclusively in the downtown jail.


Due to recent California law that changed the terms under which law enforcement could use force, the District Attorney’s Office charge Deputy Russel with murder. Russell eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. In February, Russell was sentenced to a year in jail and three years on probation.


In 1985, the US Supreme Court held that police can only use deadly force on someone who is fleeing IF there is a serious threat of injury or death. The decision left it up to the states to choose to adopt the standard. The state of California did not adapt the new use-of-force standard until 2020.


Kathleen Bils, Nicholas’ mother, filed a civil lawsuit in December 2020 against the county of San Diego, Deputy Aaron Russell, and then- Sheriff Bill Gore, for civil rights violations, excessive force, and wrongful death. Court documents show that a settlement was reached on June 20th, 2022.


The $8.1 million settlement is one of the largest settlements of its kind that the county has seen in recent years. The settlement is to be divided among Kathleen Bils, and Nicholas’ three brothers. Kathleen will receive $5.1 million and each of the three brothers $1 million.


Lawyer for the Bils family, Eugene Iredale, states that the county should learn from what happened to Nicholas Bils. Iredale questioned the policy that requires deputies who work in jails to carry firearms to and from work. Iredale also emphasizes the fact that Bils was unarmed and not a threat to anyone.

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