A Juneau judge Friday sentenced former Juneau Police Department Lt. Troy A. Wilson, 46, to serve nine years in prison for shooting at officers responding to a 911 call at his house last year, saying the law prevents him from imposing more than 10 years.
Prosecutors were hoping for 20 years, but Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg agreed with the defense’s legal argument that the sentence could not be longer than the maximum possible punishment for the most serious offense, which, in this case, is 10 years for the class ‘B’ felony of first-degree attempted assault.
Although state statutes do allow for exceptions, Pallenberg found the factors in the case did not warrant going above the 10-year threshold.
“I think that there’s a substantial likelihood that the Court of Appeals would not affirm a sentence above the Neal Mutchler limit, and I’m not going to impose one,” Pallenberg said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court case Neal v. United States and other case law.
Pallenberg also imposed 16 years of suspended jail time and 10 years probation.
Wilson, a 17-year JPD veteran and SWAT instructor who had resigned in lieu of being fired four months prior to the incident, had barricaded himself in his house on Black Wolf Way, a quiet cul-de-sac off Montana Creek Road, and fired more than 75 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.
He pleaded guilty earlier this year to seven class ‘B’ and ‘C’ felonies for first-degree attempted assault, third-degree assault, misconduct
involving weapons and criminal mischief. In exchange, prosecutors dismissed more serious charges of attempted murder. The plea deal capped the sentence at 20 years and left sentencing up to the court.
If the deal had not included the 20-year cap, the maximum sentence Wilson could have faced for the crimes he pleaded guilty to would have been 50 years, which the judge said the higher appellate court would not affirm, given the low presumptive sentencing ranges involved (one to three years for the ‘B’ felonies and zero to two years for the ‘C’ felonies), since Wilson does not have prior felony convictions or any criminal record to speak of. The judge also noted, “Obviously, I can only sentence him for the crimes of which he was convicted.”
Pallenberg agreed with District Attorney David Brower, now retired but who handled the two-day sentencing hearing since he prosecuted the case, that a lengthy jail sentence was necessary to deter both Wilson and “others like him” in the future, as well as to address the high level of community condemnation and the need for isolation.
Pallenberg reflected on past instances in Juneau and Southeast Alaska where officers have died in the line of duty, such as the 2010 fatal shooting of Hoonah Police Sergeant Anthony Wallace and Officer Matthew Tokuoka and the 1979 fatal shooting of Juneau officers Richard J. Adair and Jimmy E. Kennedy.
“Obviously, they are not the victims in this case, but part of the reason that we’re here is to try, in whatever small way this court can, to make sure that there aren’t other victims like them in the future,” Pallenberg said.
He noted the nature of police work is dangerous, but this situation, where an ex-officer turns on his colleagues, is not one of the usual risks of the job. Wilson turned his neighborhood into a battleground as responding police officers ducked for cover and tried to stand out of the line of fire as they evacuated the neighborhood and tried to take Wilson into custody.
“Taking fire like these officers did that night is more like the kind of risk that members of the military face in combat,” Pallenberg said.
Still, the judge said he must balance the seriousness of the case with Wilson’s prospects for rehabilitation. Wilson’s defense attorney Julie Willoughby called multiple witnesses to the stand Thursday, on the first day of the sentencing hearing, to testify about Wilson’s prospects and character. One of them was Dr. Mark McClung, a reputable Seattle psychiatrist who assessed Wilson as he was incarcerated; he testified Wilson is not a danger to others unless alcohol is involved and that he is amenable to treatment.
Testimony on Thursday focused on why the shootings occurred, which proved a difficult question to answer, even for Wilson, who took the stand to try to explain.
“Part of me wants to say I wish I knew,” Wilson said from the witness box when asked by his attorney how he ended up wearing an orange prisoner’s jumpsuit.
Wilson testified multiple stressors were involved, including financial and marital problems and news that day that a friend had been sexually assaulted. But deeper issues were involved: alcoholism and depression. He had been hospitalized two or three times and received counseling over the past several years — sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not — to deal with the dual-diagnosis.
Testimony revealed that Wilson had attacked a fellow police officer in December of 2008, resulting in a two week suspension from the department. Another time he was found to be unfit for duty. JPD allowed Wilson to resign in December 2012 after investigating allegations of service unbecoming of an officer and excessive alcohol use off-duty. Police previously did not disclose what Wilson was investigated for, or the reason for his termination, saying it was a personnel matter.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.