Deputy-Involved Shooting

Man Killed By Deputy Was Shot 3 Times, Including in the Back

Nicholas Bils was running away when a Sheriff's Deputy shot and killed him last week

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The man who was shot and killed by a San Diego County Sheriff's Deputy last week was shot three times as he was running away, including one bullet that struck him in the back.

The previously unreported details of the case come as community advocates are reacting to new information surrounding the shooting uncovered by NBC 7 Investigates.

For 36-year-old Nicholas Bils mother, Kathleen Bils, it all started with a voice machine recording from a California State Park Ranger who called her to say they had arrested her son and had his dog. Hours later, her son would be dead.

“I have to bury my son and I want to know why he’s dead,” said Bils in an interview with NBC 7 Investigates on Monday. “Why? Why is my son dead? He was mentally ill. It’s not his fault he doesn’t understand.”

Bils says her son Nicholas was a paranoid schizophrenic who was extremely afraid of the police.

On Monday, Bils said she was having a hard time getting information on her son’s death. But after NBC 7 reported her story, Bils says homicide detectives gave her more details about her son’s killing.

She says police told her Bils 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 told her Bils had 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.

Detectives also drew her a map showing how Bils ran from the gate at the jail north towards B Street. The deputies were across the street on Front Street.

The Sheriff's Deputy that shot Bils was identified on Monday as 23-year-old Aaron Russell, who had worked for the department for less than two years.

Bils said police told her Russell shot her son four times, with three bullets entering her son’s body. One bullet went through his left arm into his chest, another bullet hit his leg and a third bullet hit his back. A fourth bullet grazed his flank.

The San Diego Police Department, who is handling the investigation, has not released any of the above information to the public.

"It's very unusual,” says Francine Maxwell, president of the NAACP San Diego Branch. “Because the San Diego Police Department has been moving towards being a more transparent office."

Officers tell NBC 7 there is no body camera footage of the shooting because the Sheriff’s Deputies who shot Bils worked at the downtown jail facility, and that jail employees aren’t issued body cameras – a policy that the sheriff’s department now says it's reviewing. 

"It doesn't sit well with the NAACP San Diego branch because the County of San Diego has put in over a million dollars to make sure that everyone has cameras,” Maxwell said.

And it’s not just the lack of body camera video, Maxwell says police are releasing too little information, too slowly, about a shooting she says never should have happened in the first place.

"We cannot have confidence in an investigation that does not follow normal policies and procedures,” Maxwell said. “So, there is going to be a cloud. There is going to be more suspicion."

“We are outraged,” said community activist and former mayoral candidate Tasha Williamson. “We are outraged at the way law enforcement is able to get away with being rogue.”

Williamson says there's a reason for the community to question this shooting.

“There is a sincere distrust of law enforcement because of how rogue officers have engaged with the public,” Williamson said.

Bils is grieving, but she says she doesn’t want the deputy who shot her son to go to prison for an impulse decision. She does want him off the force and never be able to carry a gun again.

As of January 1, a new law (AB392) raised the threshold for when law enforcement officers can use deadly force. Now they can do so only when “necessary” as opposed to when “reasonable.” 

The new law also prevents officers from opening fire on fleeing felons who do not pose an immediate danger. 

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