by Photo courtesy of the San Diego Sheriffs Department

On Monday, a former San Diego County Sheriffs deputy was sentenced to a year in prison and three years of probation after fatally shooting an unarmed fleeing detainee outside the downtown San Diego jail. 

Nicholas Bils, 36, was fatally shot multiple times in the back while fleeing from custody on May 1, 2020 by 25-year-old former Sheriffs Deputy Aaron Russell. Promptly after the shooting, Russell resigned from the department after 18 months in service and was later charged with second-degree murder.

Russell was originally sentenced to three years in prison for the shooting, but since that sentence was stayed. He pleaded guilty last month to a voluntary manslaughter charge and may do work furlough.

The criminal charges against Russell came as a result of changing a state law that mandates firearms to utilize deadly force only when it is deemed necessary or in defense when in an imminent threat of death, or when in serious harm to themselves or others. 

During his attempt to flee, Bils managed to partially slip out of handcuffs and escape from a California State Parks officer's car. Surveillance footage shows another ranger in another truck made attempts to subdue Bils, but the door had been shut on the officer. 

Bils fled on foot before he was shot four times in the back, arm, and thigh. Prosecutors said Russell was the only law enforcement officer who drew a firearm despite three being present at the scene. 

Richard Pinckard, an attorney at the preliminary hearing, claimed Russell had a reasonable belief that Bils, who was unarmed, presented a threat to members of the public. He noted Bils slipped the cuffs from one of his wrists and may have been clutching the dangling cuff as he fled the scene. 

The testifying officers expressed opposing sentiments, claiming they didn't feel Bils was an immediate danger.  

According to a plea agreement, Russell said he "unreasonably believed that I or someone else was in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury. I actually, but unreasonably believed that the immediate use of deadly force was necessary to defend against the danger. I, therefore, acting alone, personally used my department-issued firearm to shoot Nicholas Bils, ending his life."

Bils' mother, Kathleen Bils, filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, the county, and others in connection with the shooting. 

The lawsuit remains pending.

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