New Hanover County Commissioner Brian Berger had his first court appearance in New Hanover County on June 12 following his June 10 arrest in Avery County, North Carolina.
During his district court appearance, it was established that Berger will receive court-appointed counsel for his first hearing on June 24 in courtroom 317 of the New Hanover County courthouse. In the interim, Berger will be held at the New Hanover County jail on a $300,000 bond.
Berger faces seven violations of his probation. He was sentenced to one year of probation at a February 2014 hearing where he pled guilty to driving while impaired and possession of a schedule II controlled substance.
After Berger left his last known residence, Room 201 at Wilmington’s Jameson Inn, on May 21, his probation officer was unable to contact Berger. The same day, a probation violation report states he refused to submit to a scheduled drug screening and admitted to using marijuana prior to the appointment.
Berger also failed to complete the required 48 hours of community service within the time frame specified by the court during his February hearing.
The violations, coupled with earlier violations of driving while his license was revoked in Johnston County, led to a June 9 issuance of a warrant for Berger’s arrest—the same day a Beech Mountain Police officer was dispatched to investigate a gunshot fired at Berger’s location.
When Berger was taken into custody the next day, he was found in possession of a marijuana pipe and a small arsenal of weapons. He faces a drug paraphernalia charge in Avery County for possession of the pipe, while possession of the weapons constituted another probation violation.
Berger was staying at a vacation cabin leased to Justin LaNasa, most recently a Republican candidate for state Senate in the 2014 primary election. LaNasa said he knew Berger from the local political scene and gave him permission to stay at the cabin to relax but did not give permission to access his weapons. He could press charges against Berger for breaking and entering.
LaNasa stressed his belief that Berger needs treatment instead of jail time.
“I personally feel that Brian Berger doesn’t need incarceration. He needs mental help. … Going to jail is not going to help [him],” LaNasa said during a June 12 phone interview.
He said Berger has never seemed violent or dangerous, adding when Berger called him from the Avery County jail to apologize, Berger admitted he might need help.
Berger faces at least 120 days in jail if his probation is revoked, in addition to other sentencing dependent on the future ruling of his case.
District Attorney Ben David said approximately two-thirds of North Carolinians on probation violate the terms of their probation, adding that Berger’s case would be handled like any other case.
David said in most cases where an individual absconds, or leaves town without notifying a probation officer, the result is revoked probation and jail time.
Berger will have a separate hearing in Avery County for his paraphernalia charges.