Mental health evaluation prescribed before Berger’s case continues

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New Hanover County Commissioner Brian Berger will receive a mental health evaluation before his probation violation case is considered by the courts.

Assistant public defender Mercedes Pinckney, Berger’s court-appointed counsel, filed a defense motion during a June 24 court appearance requesting a forensic mental health evaluation.

The prosecution did not oppose the motion, leading District Court Judge Robin Wicks Robinson to approve it and set his next court date for July 22. Berger was returned to the New Hanover County jail.

Berger faces seven probation violations including absconding from supervision, or leaving town without notifying a probation officer. In most cases in which an individual absconds, the result is revoked probation and jail time. He will face a minimum of 120 days in jail if his probation is revoked.

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. At a scheduled drug screening on May 21, Berger declined to submit to the screening, admitting he had smoked marijuana prior to the appointment. He then left his last known residence, room 201 at Wilmington’s Jameson Inn.

Those events, coupled with other violations including failure to complete community service requirements and charges of driving while his license was revoked in Johnston County, led to a June 9 warrant for his arrest — issued the same day a Beech Mountain police officer was dispatched to investigate a gunshot fired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.

The house is 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 offered to let him stay at his cabin to relax and fish.

“I just thought the guy needed a break,” LaNasa said during a June 12 phone interview, adding that Berger seemed burdened with the media’s perception of him and stressed about his inability to find a landlord willing to rent an apartment to him.

When Berger was taken into custody at the house June 10, 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. The weapons belong to LaNasa, who said he did not give Berger permission to access them. He added that no rounds seemed to be fired from any of his guns.

Berger faces a drug paraphernalia charge in Avery County for possession of the pipe, while possession of the weapons constituted another probation violation. LaNasa could press additional charges against Berger for breaking and entering. He 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.

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.

A discrimination complaint filed following a May 2013 effort by fellow New Hanover County Commissioners to remove Berger from the board disclosed that Berger has been diagnosed with autism.

email miriah@luminanews.com

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