The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office on Monday charged a sheriff’s deputy with second-degree murder in the killing of an unarmed man in May — a rare instance of criminal charges being brought against an officer for actions on the job.
The deputy, Aaron Russell, 23, is accused of shooting Nicholas Bils, 36, while he was running from officers after escaping from a California park ranger’s car on May 1.
San Diego County’s district attorney, Summer Stephan, said in a statement on Monday that the office had reached a decision to press charges after conducting a thorough review of the facts in the case.
She said that California state law allowed officers to use deadly force only when it was deemed necessary to defend against imminent threats of death or serious injuries to officers or other people.
“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,” she said. “Every person must be accountable under the law.”
Mr. Russell, who was removed from his position after the shooting, was in custody on Monday and was scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday in a San Diego court, with bail set at $1 million. If convicted, he faces a minimum of 15 years in prison and up to a life sentence.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department did not respond to a request for comment on Monday night. Barbara Medina, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office, declined to provide any further details about the case.
Mr. Bils, who was shot in the back, was mentally ill, according to an interview with his mother, Kathleen Bils, that was published by the NBC affiliate KNSD-TV in San Diego. In the interview, Ms. Bils said that the police told her that her son had been putting golf balls at a San Diego park when rangers approached him and told him that he could not have his dog off the leash and that the park was closed because of the coronavirus.
Detectives told Ms. Bils that her son had swung a golf club near the rangers, prompting them to arrest him for assault with a deadly weapon. When they put him into a vehicle to take him to the county jail, he escaped through the open windows, she said in the interview.
The District Attorney’s Office said that there was surveillance video from the episode, but that it would not be releasing the footage or more details about the shooting to the public because doing so could jeopardize Mr. Russell’s right to a fair trial. The video is expected to be presented as evidence during court proceedings, the office said in its statement.