JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the search of a Southside property, where human remains were found last week, resumed Tuesday, News4Jax uncovered details about an incident that landed the homeowner in jail last May.
Russell Tillis, 54, is charged with assaulting police officers on his property last year. That same property is where investigators found human remains Thursday, after a tip led them to search the home on Bowden Circle East.
According to Tillis' arrest report last May, officers went to the home with arrest warrants after Tillis violated an injunction obtained against him by a neighbor. The report said Tillis ran from the officers, led them through the backyard, where he'd laid booby traps and was later arrested after he attacked the officers with two knives. The booby traps were nails hammered through wooden boards that were buried in the sand, police said.
Tillis filed a handwritten motion in December to suppress all the evidence in the assault case, including the knives, photos of the knives and the boards with the nails sticking up, and photos of his boot print on the uniform of Sgt. Joe Weeks.
Tillis claimed that Weeks created a circumstance to "justify his unlawful entry" onto Tillis' property. He said Weeks threw as many as 10 rocks at his home to get Tillis to come outside, which led to his arrest. Tillis concluded that all of the evidence seized as the result of the “unlawful entry” should be suppressed.
During a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Internal Affairs investigation into Tillis' claims, Weeks admitted throwing rocks at the home. He told IA investigators it was because "Tillis had booby-trapped his property with razor wire and similar items."
Investigators wrote a letter back to Tillis, saying the officers' actions were legal and proper under the circumstances.
“They were serving an injunction. They got information that the place may have been booby-trapped with razor wires, which means the officers running in there could have been decapitated, could have caused some serious damage to them, so what the sergeant decided to do was to throw rocks at the window to get him to come out,” News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said. “He’s going to wonder what’s going on out there. He heard the tapping on his window, and he came out. I thought it was a pretty good idea myself.”
Tillis told investigators he wasn't trying to get the officers in trouble, "he was just angry at being duped."
“We’ve seen incidences around the country where people are having knives and coming at officers around the country, and the officer has used deadly force,” Smith said. “In this case, they used remarkable restraint, in my opinion.”
Tillis said after he came outside, one of the rocks Weeks was throwing hit him. He said he still has it and is keeping it as evidence.
Tillis' case is set for jury trial March 7.
Tillis has been arrested several times over the past decade on charges including sexual assault, stalking, indecent exposure and soliciting for prostitution.
He previously served 12 years in prison for convictions ranging from kidnapping to burglary to grand theft. He was charged in 2012 with attacking a 26-year-old prostitute. According to the report, "the suspect became aggressive, struck the victim in the mouth and forced her to perform" a sex act on him.
Another report from February 2015 said Tillis put nails in his neighbor’s driveway.
“Just based on what I’m seeing, hearing, reading and talking to people in the neighborhood, it sounds like he’s not very stable," Smith said. "Also, to booby-trap your home. Now, that may not have been set up for police officers. He probably didn’t want anyone on his property at all. But to set it up that way, I mean, someone could have been killed by doing that. So, it seems like he had no regard for human life whatsoever.”
Records show police have been called to the home eight times in the past two years.
At least two women have filed restraining orders against Tills for repeated violence and threats.
Ongoing search after remains found
Investigators have been out at the house searching the property since first investigating the tip on Wednesday that led to the remains.
Smith said the high privacy fence around Tillis' property is evidence of a man with something to hide.
“They did find some remains here. It doesn't mean that there's just one set of remains here. He set up a pretty high wall around the property. Anyone setting up a high wall, higher than a normal privacy fence, appears to me that they may be trying to hide something, so just because they find a set of one remains doesn't mean that they will stop at that point,” Smith said.
Smith said officers will use specialized equipment to look for any additional remains or any weapons hidden around the property.
“The forensic team may use what is called a sifter, which is sort of a large box, where they can take parts of the ground area back there that may have remains or evidence, put them in the sifter, (and) the dirt will fall through, and then any bone fragments, hairs, anything, any piece of evidence caught there, clothing, (those) will remain,” Smith said.
Smith said investigators have to be very careful, especially because they might find clues or missing links from other cases.
“When they're checking his prior arrests or prior police contact, they’ll check and see what areas he may have attacked people and see if there any missing persons from that particular area, and then that could open up an investigation for those missing persons,” Smith said.