San Diego County Superior Court
The new San Diego County Superior Court in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

A second-degree murder charge was filed Monday against a former San Diego County sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot an escaped inmate outside the downtown jail in May.

Aaron Russell, 23, is in custody in lieu of $1 million bail in connection with the May 1 shooting death of Nicholas Bils. Russell, who resigned shortly after the shooting, faces 15 years to life in state prison if convicted.

Bils, 36, had been arrested by rangers with the California Department of Parks and Recreation for allegedly threatening a ranger with a golf club at Old Town San Diego State Park. He was being transported to the downtown detention facility when he managed to escape from a California State Park Officer’s car.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, Bils was unarmed and running away from officers when he was shot just outside the San Diego Central Jail.

Exactly what prompted the deputy to open fire remains unclear. The DA’s Office said there is surveillance footage of the shooting, but it will not be released to the public at this time as it is now evidence in a pending criminal case.

District Attorney Summer Stephan said, “We reached the decision to file criminal charges following a thorough review of all the objective facts and evidence in this case by specialized prosecutors and investigators in our Special Operations Division. 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. These decisions must be made solely in the interest of justice and not based on favoritism nor public opinion.  Every person must be accountable under the law.”

Russell had been with the department for 18 months at the time of the shooting, according to the San Diego Police Department.

He’s slated to be arraigned Tuesday morning on the murder charge, as well as an allegation of using a gun.

— City News Service