Ex-deputy gets Fall trial; dog stabber remains in custody

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A former sheriff’s deputy from Santee will stand trial Oct. 4 on a second-degree murder charge involving the fatal shooting of an escaped prisoner.

Aaron Russell, 24, pleaded not guilty Feb. 10 in the May 1, 2020, shooting of Nicholas Bils, 36, after he escaped from a park ranger’s vehicle outside the central jail.

Russell appeared with his attorney before San Diego Superior Court Judge Eugenia Eyherabide, who remarked “hopefully by October we will be trying cases.”

The courthouses have been mostly closed to jury trials since the declaration of an emergency pandemic in March, 2020, but one jury trial is scheduled for this week as the courts gradually open.

Russell, who is free on $500,000 bond, waived his right to have a speedy trial.  He resigned his position with the sheriff’s department about six days after the shooting.

Another judge ordered Russell to stand trial Jan. 27 after hearing evidence about the shooting. Bils had been arrested for assault by a state park ranger and somehow escaped his handcuffs and opened the back door of a ranger vehicle.

Deputy District Attorney Stephen Marquardt said no other officers drew their weapon, but Russell shot him four times as Bils was running away.  Marquardt said “there was no imminent threat.”

Russell’s attorney, Richard Pinckard, said Russell saw “shiny metal” from one handcuff dangling from Bils’ wrist and fired, seeing an “immediate threat.” Pinckard said a decision to fire was “made in fractions of seconds.”

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Sentencing was set for April 12 for a man who pleaded guilty to robbing the Navy Federal Credit Union in La Mesa at knifepoint.

A bank tracker was found with the money in the black bag that was carried by Rafeek Omar Karamat, 35, following the Sept. 30, 2020 robbery in which $2,500 was taken, according to court records.

Karamat brandished a knife to a teller at the credit union at 9796 Grossmont Blvd. after he demanded money. “Give me what I came for,” said Karamat, according to court records.

U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Battaglia will sentence Karamat after his attorney and the prosecutor will submit written recommendations as to how much time he should serve in federal prison.

“Robbing banks may sound old-fashioned in today’s high-tech world, but it’s a crime problem that continues to take a toll on financial institutions and communities across the nation,” said FBI special agent Suzanne Turner.

Karamat remains in custody on $35,000 bail.

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A judge declined to release a man from jail who is charged with stabbing a police dog and spraying three sheriff’s deputies with bear spray in a 2019 incident in Jamul.

Attorney Anthony Parker, who represents Richard Anthony Lechuga, 30, asked El Cajon Superior Court Judge Robert Amador to release him Feb. 8 on his own recognizance due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Amador acknowledged that the “pandemic created havoc” in the courts and people are routinely being quarantined in jail and elsewhere.

Amador said Lechuga stopped taking his medication before the incident. Deputies got a call to check the welfare of a man talking to himself and walking around a vehicle repeatedly in the 15000 block of Skyline Truck Trail on Oct. 15, 2019.

Lechuga is charged with stabbing Bono, the sheriff’s canine unit, in the head and face, and then used a type of pepper spray on three deputies.  The dog was hospitalized and recovered.

A trial date was set for April 12, and Lechuga remains in the George Bailey Detention Facility on $327,250 bail.