A former soldier in the Alaska National Guard was sentenced Wednesday to serve a year in prison for shooting a firearm at a vehicle on Egan Drive earlier this year.
Assistant Public Defender Grace Lee said there’s not a satisfactory answer as to what caused Darshan S. Dogra’s behavior — just possibilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anger issues or alcohol abuse.
“Ultimately I think no matter what sentence is fashioned, it’s very important that the court at least attempt to address those possibilities,” Lee said during the sentencing hearing Juneau Superior Court. “Include substance abuse treatment, include Mr. Dogra maybe going to the VA hospital and try to get some sort of mental health help, at least get a diagnosis if that’s possible.”
Elizabeth Ramsey said her 24-year-old grandson was “different” when he came back from his yearlong tour from Afghanistan in November: he had trouble sleeping and was distant.
“He needs help,” she said, noting that she and her family believes he has PTSD but has not been diagnosed yet. “He’s seen a lot.”
Prosecutors say Dogra placed two people — a tow truck driver and a passenger — in danger when he stopped his vehicle in front of a tow truck near the Sunny Point Overpass on Feb. 1 and fired a handgun.
“They were in fear of being shot so they floored it to get away,” Assistant District Attorney Nick Polasky said of the two victims.
No one was injured, but a bullet struck the rear driver’s side door of a vehicle being towed.
Charging documents indicate that just prior to the incident, Dogra was driving with his girlfriend on Mendenhall Loop Road when they saw a tow truck heading in the opposite direction. He became agitated, “said something about ‘f------ tweakers’ and made negative comments about the government,” made a hard U-turn and began following the truck, his girlfriend later told police.
At one point, Dogra asked his girlfriend — whom Polasky described as being “terrified” — to grab the wheel to keep control of the car. She told officers she saw him pull out a handgun and that she heard a gunshot after he exited the vehicle.
A police investigation showed Dogra did not know the owner of the towed vehicle.
The state considered pressing attempted murder charges, but Polasky said they did not since there was no evidence Dogra was trying to shoot and kill the tow truck driver and passenger, identified in court papers as Randall Benc and Edgar Monignok.
Still, it was a serious assault, Polasky argued Wednesday, saying, “The margin between shooting and not hurting somebody and shooting and hurting somebody is pretty thin.”
The state charged Dogra with three felonies: two counts of third-degree assault for recklessly placing Benc and Monignok in fear of “imminent serious physical injury” with a gun, and one count of third-degree criminal mischief for damaging the towed vehicle to the tune of approximately $700.
Dogra pleaded guilty last month to one consolidated count of third-degree assault, and prosecutors agreed to dismiss the charges in exchange for his plea.
The plea deal left sentencing open to the court. Since Dogra does not have any prior felony convictions, he was presumptive to serve between zero to two years in jail.
Polasky on Wednesday asked the judge to find a sentencing aggravator that would allow the sentence to exceed that range, and he requested Dogra serve four years with two years suspended. Lee, on the other hand, requested her client serve two years with one and a half years suspended.
Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg said the aggravator did not apply in this case and imposed two years with one suspended, meaning one year to serve.
“I think that when you shoot off a gun in close proximity to somebody and it strikes a vehicle, that you have to take into account the sentencing factors of deterrence and reaffirmation of societal norms,” Pallenberg said. “The court needs to impose some jail time. I think rehabilitation is a very important, hugely important factor here.”
The judge also placed Dogra on probation for three years and ordered him to undergo a mental health evaluation, receive an assessment for PTSD from the VA or a mental health professional and to comply with any recommended treatment. The same condition applied for substance abuse since Dogra admitted to police he had been drinking sometime before the shooting.
Dogra served at least two tours overseas in his five or six years with the National Guard, his mother said. Dogra said he was honorably discharged in November.
Before being sentenced, Dogra told the judge that he takes full responsibility for his actions and he apologized to the victims, who did not attend the hearing.
“I don’t know where my mind was at the time,” Dogra said.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.