Court to hear Berger’s probation violation case

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New Hanover County Commissioner Brian Berger will have his first court hearing on allegations of seven probation violations in room 317 of the New Hanover County courthouse on June 24.

Berger’s request for court-appointed counsel was approved during a June 12 district court appearance. Assistant public defender Mercedes L. Pinckney will represent Berger, who is awaiting trial at the New Hanover County jail on a $300,000 bond.

Alleged violations include absconding, or leaving town without notifying a probation officer. District attorney Ben David said in most cases in which an individual absconds, the result is revoked probation and jail time. If his probation is revoked, Berger faces a minimum of 120 days in jail in addition to other sentencing dependent on the ruling of his case.

David said approximately two-thirds of North Carolinians violate the terms of their probation, adding that Berger’s case will be handled like any other case.

Berger was sentenced to one year of probation during a February 2014 hearing in which he pled guilty to driving while impaired and possession of a schedule II controlled substance.

Berger’s probation officer was unable to contact him after he left his last known residence, room 201 at Wilmington’s Jameson Inn, on May 21. The same day, a probation violation report states he declined to submit to a scheduled drug screening and admitted to using marijuana prior to the appointment.

Those circumstances, coupled with other violations including failure to complete the required 48 hours of community service and charges of driving while his license was revoked in Johnston County, led to a June 9 warrant for his arrest — issued the same day a Beech Mountain police officer was dispatched to investigate a gunshot fired at a rental house in the mountaintop town where Berger was staying.

When Berger was taken into custody at the house the next day, he was found in possession of a marijuana pipe and a small arsenal of weapons including a switchblade, sword, crossbow, 37-mm grenade launcher, pistols, air guns and rifles with high-capacity magazines. He faces a drug paraphernalia charge in Avery County for possession of the pipe, while possession of the weapons constituted another alleged 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 grant 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 will have a separate hearing in Avery County for his paraphernalia charges. A court date for those charges has not been set.

email miriah@luminanews.com

 

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