The sentencing hearing for a former Juneau police lieutenant who fired high-powered rifles and handguns at his fellow officers last April was held Thursday in Juneau Superior Court, revealing more about the hushed circumstances surrounding the case, but time restraints cut proceedings short just before the sentence could be handed down.
After listening to six and a half hours of witness testimony, arguments from attorneys and victim statements from police officers who responded to the 911 call at Troy A. Wilson’s house the night of April 7, 2012, Judge Philip Pallenberg said he needed time to organize his thoughts before making a ruling.
“I don’t want to rush this,” the judge said, with only 30 more minutes left in the business day. The hearing will continue Friday morning.
Prosecutors are asking for Wilson to serve a 20 year prison sentence (35 years with 15 years suspended), while the defense is requesting three to six years to serve, plus a substantial amount of suspended time to be determined by the court.
The 17-year JPD veteran and former SWAT instructor pleaded guilty earlier this year to seven felony counts for first-degree attempted assault, third-degree assault, misconduct involving weapons and criminal mischief. He had originally been charged with 22 felony counts, including attempted murder, but those more serious charges were dismissed in exchange for his pleas as part of a plea deal.
Wilson, 46, had barricaded himself in his house on Black Wolf Way, a quiet cul-de-sac off Montana Creek Road, and fired 75 to 100 shots at officers and their vehicles. No one was injured during the incident, and Wilson surrendered about four to five hours later, early Easter morning, April 8, 2012.
On Thursday, Wilson testified on the witness stand that he does not have a good memory of the night because he was blacked out from drinking alcohol. But he did not deny the allegations and expressed sincere remorse for placing others in danger.
“What I did goes against everything I have stood for 17 years,” he said. “What I did was wrong, it was against the law, and I’m responsible.”
District Attorney David Brower said Wilson had a grudge against the police department for firing him four months prior to the incident. Testimony showed JPD allowed Wilson to resign in December 2012 after investigating allegations of service unbecoming of an officer and excessive alcohol use off-duty. Previously, police did not disclose what Wilson was being investigated for, saying it was a personnel matter.
“Yeah, I was angry, there’s no doubt about it,” Wilson said from the stand under cross examination.
Wilson testified he has long suffered from depression and alcohol abuse and first began receiving counseling in the fall of 2008.
He said JPD was unaware of it until an incident in December 2008 when he physically attacked his coworker and friend, Lt. Kris Sell. Sell had responded to Wilson’s home after receiving a call from Wilson’s wife. Wilson had drunkenly kicked Sell and choked her, but Sell struck him in the forehead with the palm of her hand, freeing herself just as her supervisor arrived on scene.
Sell told the judge Thursday that Wilson never apologized, but simply said he should not have done that, but then he made an excuse and “railed” against the police department in an angry rant.
After the attack, Wilson was taken to the mental health unit at Bartlett Regional Hospital where he stayed for four days. JPD punished him by suspending him for two weeks, he said.
Wilson was hospitalized two or three times in the past four years to deal with alcohol and depression issues, he said. In 2009, he stayed for 10 days at Schick Shadel, a Seattle hospital, for alcohol abuse, but he said he relapsed and began drinking three months later. He also stayed at Hazelden Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment in Minnesota, a dual-diagnosis facility, in the fall of 2011.
At one point, he was evaluated by a psychologist and found not fit for duty as a police officer, but later was restored.
Seattle psychiatrist Mark McClung assessed Wilson’s mental state at the time of the shootings while he was incarcerated and said Wilson reported being sober for six to eight months prior to the shooting, but that four or five days immediately before, he began drinking again.
Wilson’s family members and friends, including his father Fred Wilson Jr. and ex-wife Julie Fowler-Wilson, grappled with the question of why Wilson did what he did, saying it was uncharacteristic for him to be violent and angry. Fowler-Wilson said Wilson did not have a drinking problem when they married in 1987, but that it occurred gradually, as did changes in his behavior.
“He was so burdened down with everything going on, he just broke,” she speculated.
She said after his mother died in September 2005, he never recovered from his grief — it just transformed into depression, she said. There was also an incident where, on the job, Wilson witnessed a man shoot himself, which Wilson also recalled on the stand. Immediately after responding to that call, Wilson had to go home to their daughter’s 12th birthday party.
“These things just don’t go together, they just don’t make sense,” Wilson said, breaking down in tears as he relived the moment.
There were additional stressors such as finances, debt and arguments in their marriage, Wilson said.
But the night of the shooting, Fowler-Wilson said they received devastating news that one of their family friends have been sexually abused. She said Wilson took it particularly hard. Later that evening, she said she came back home around 9:30 p.m. from a dance performance and found Wilson drunk on the phone with one of his support group members. He sat her down and told her he wants her to “sit down with him, listen to him, then watch him blow his brains out.”
He began walking to the garage to get his gun out of the safe, which is when she called 911, prompting the police response. She said she wasn’t afraid for her life but was scared he would shoot himself.
The courtroom on Thursday was packed with Juneau Police Department officers, some of whom were trained by Wilson, considered him a leader and held him in high regard. One officer, Sgt. Chris Gifford, said he once considered Wilson his hero. Now, he’s struggling with whether to forgive him.
“The magnitude of this incident outweighs the good that he’s done,” in the community, Gifford said, requesting the judge isolate Wilson to ensure public safety. “He knew what he was doing.”
The officers recalled the terror of that night — officers ducked for cover and tried to stay out of the line of fire while evacuating the neighborhood residents to safety. Officers reported hearing bullets whizzing by, kicking the snow up in front of them and skipping on the pavement as Wilson used the high-powered scope on his rifle to target them.
During the standoff, Wilson was in communication with police over the phone and told negotiators that he was going to kill everyone who responded to his house. He also vowed to “kill the world” and hunt down and kill the now retired police chief, assistant chief and captain.
In a statement read aloud by the district attorney, Officer Shawn Phelps said Wilson “almost cost me my brother.” Phelps was referring to his younger brother, Detective Lee Phelps, also a JPD officer, who had taken cover behind a tree at one point and later discovered a bullet lodged in the front of the tree, right at his head level. The elder Phelps asked the judge to give Wilson 20 years without parole.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.