San Diego deputy who pleaded guilty to manslaughter now faces federal charges

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A former San Diego sheriff’s deputy who already pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter for the 2020 fatal shooting of an unarmed suspect has been indicted on two federal charges that could bring a life sentence, federal prosecutors said.

A federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment Friday charging Aaron Russell with depriving Nicholas Bils of his right to be free from officers using excessive force and with discharging a firearm in a violent crime, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.

Bils, 36, was arrested in May 2020 at Old Town State Park in San Diego where he had been pitching balls to his off-leash dog. He brandished a golf club at a ranger before running away and was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and resisting arrest.

Bils was in a State Parks patrol car heading to the downtown jail when he managed to slip out of his handcuffs, reached out a window to open the car door, then jumped out and ran.

Aaron Russell, a jail deputy with 18 months on the force, chased Bils and shot him four times, including once in the back. Surveillance video captured the shooting.

Russell was charged with murder, but pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, and was sentenced to a year in jail and three years of probation. If convicted of the federal charges, he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison, the Justice Department said.

Contact information for Russell could not be found Sunday. He resigned from the sheriff's department shortly after the shooting.

Bils’ mother, Kathleen Bils, told NBC 7 her son was a paranoid schizophrenic who was afraid of law enforcement, which may have played a role in his flight.

The shooting led to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Bils’ relatives, which was settled in 2022 with San Diego County agreeing to pay the family $8.1 million.