SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Almost a year after its passing, a California law limiting police use of force has been used to charge an officer for killing a man.
San Diego County Sheriff’s deputy Aaron Russell, 23, was charged with second-degree murder for shooting and killing 36-year-old Nicholas Bils, according to a press release from the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.
Bils was shot after escaping from a California State Park officer’s car outside of the San Diego Central Jail downtown. Bils was running away and unarmed when he was shot, the district attorney’s office 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,” said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan.
Russell could face 15 years-to-life in prison if he’s convicted of all charges. He is one of the first officers to be charged under the Stephon Clark Law (AB 392), which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in August.
Under the law, deadly force is only justified when necessary to defend against the imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person.
Stevante Clark, Stephon Clark’s brother, said it’s huge that the law was used in the case against Russell.
“It promotes accountability on all levels. I’ve said numerous times slow progress is better than no progress,” Clark said. “In San Diego, they’re feeling the effects of what happened in Sacramento... I believe we need Stephon Clark Law implementation or a national model like Stephon Clark Law across this nation to prevent Stephon Clarks from ever happening again.”
Clark said there was opposition to AB 392 from those who said the bill didn’t go far enough to hold officers accountable.
“I understand how people could feel that way because we’ll never get our loved ones back,” Clark said. “But anything we can do to prevent something like this from ever happening again, that’s why I promote Stephon Clark Law. I don’t call it AB 392. I call it Stephon Clark Law because this law was implemented off the blood of my brother in my grandmother’s backyard.”
Clark said the law commemorates his brother’s life and legacy. He said losing a loved one at the hands of police is a club no one wants to be a part of.
“I want to let these families know that if they don’t have anybody, I’m here for them," Clark said. "I want these families to know that Trayvon Martin is Stephon Clark. Stephon Clark is Eric Garner. Eric Garner is Breonna Taylor. Breonna Taylor is Ahmaud Arbery, and so on.”