SAN DIEGO — The mother of a mentally ill man -- shot and killed by an off-duty San Diego County Sheriff’s deputy – has hired an attorney and is speaking out.
Kathleen Bils still has a lot of questions about why her son is dead, even though the fatal shooting happened almost two months ago.
She’s demanding that surveillance video of the deputy-involved shooting be made public under state law.
“He was only 36 years old. He should have lived at least another 36 years,” said Kathleen Bils during an interview in the offices of her attorney, Eugene Iredale.
Her son, Nicholas Bils, lived on a boat, suffered from mental illness and had a history of drug use and running away from police, the mother said.
“That's all I could see in my mind was my son, so afraid, running through the intersection and someone shooting him over, and over, and over again,” she said.
Kathleen recalled seeing her son’s body at the crematorium.
“That is the most awful thing that can happen to a parent and a mother, to look on the body of your dead son,” she said. “I thought, 'that's my son. That can't be my son. He can't be dead.' And, I totally lost it.”
She also said she will never forget two San Diego police officers coming to her door to tell her what happened.
“The first thing they said was, ‘Miss Bils, your son was shot four times,’” Kathleen said.
He was shot once in the back, once in the chest, once in the leg, and had a graze wound to his flank, according to the mother.
“I said, 'he didn't have a weapon,' and they said, 'oh we don't know that,'” she recalled.
Nicholas Bils initially was arrested in Old Town State Park on May 1. Park rangers approached him for having his dog off a leash; then, the rangers said, Bils suddenly swung a golf club at them and took off running.
The rangers eventually arrested him and took him to the downtown jail, where he escaped again by slipping out of his handcuffs.
“For heaven’s sake, they shouldn't be in law enforcement if they can't keep a person they want to arrest safe,” said Kathleen Bils.
Two off-duty deputies witnessed Bils’ escape from the patrol car in front of the jail, and one of the deputies – 23-year-old Aaron Russell – pulled out his gun and opened fire, fatally wounding Bils.
Attorney Eugene Iredale now represents the Bils family.
“He was clearly unarmed and he was fleeing away,” Iredale said.
“The person was downtown, he was in the presence of four separate officers, he wasn't going to get away," the attorney said. "They should have used lesser force."
The two deputies were not wearing body cameras but the shooting was captured on surveillance video from cameras mounted on the jail and on a building across the street.
Iredale said that video should be released under a newly-enacted California law.
“The purpose of the law the legislature wrote was to have openness and transparency. His mother and the law demand that this [video] be made public,” Iredale said.
The deputy who pulled the trigger, Aaron Russell, resigned from the sheriff's department days after the incident. His attorney declined to comment on the case.
The San Diego Police Department conducted the shooting investigation and has turned the case over to the San Diego County District Attorney’s office for review.
It now appears the district attorney's office will make the decision on releasing the surveillance video.
The sheriff’s department denied News 8’s public records request to release the video citing the ongoing investigation.