D.A. speaks out on Commissioner Brian Berger's legal drama - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

D.A. speaks out on Commissioner Brian Berger's legal drama

Berger makes first court appearance. Berger makes first court appearance.
NHC Commissioner Brian Berger (Source: WPD) NHC Commissioner Brian Berger (Source: WPD)
Commissioner Berger's home Friday morning. Commissioner Berger's home Friday morning.

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David is speaking out about Commissioner Brian Berger's latest legal drama.

"Mr. Berger will be treated like everyone else, whether he is an alleged victim in one case or an alleged offender in another," said David.

Commissioner Berger was released from jail after an early morning arrest Friday morning. 

Officers with the Wilmington Police Department arrested him around 12:20 a.m. on charges of simple assault and injury to personal property.

According to police, those charges are related to domestic violence.

Berger was given a $500 unsecured bond during his hearing Friday, where his charges were changed from simple assault to assault on a female.  After signing paperwork for the unsecured bond, Berger left jail and was picked up by fellow Commissioner Jason Thompson.  Berger did not make a public statement.

[SLIDESHOW: Berger's bond hearing]

A woman who claims to be Berger's ex girlfriend called 911 asking for a police escort to get some things from his house.

"The trash is going to be picked up tomorrow and I need to get my stuff, but he's already been physical," the woman told 911 operators.  "He's tried to I don't know grab me and I'm scared to go over and get my stuff."

The woman told 911 operators that she was scared to go to Berger's house alone because he had already shown aggression earlier that night.

"He's already tried to get in my car," explained the woman.  "And when I locked the door he couldn't get in, and he ripped the door handle off the car.  So I don't really want to be alone with him right now. "

[Listen to the entire 911 call]

The woman told police this happened after an argument that took place at Berger's home on Commons Way around 7:00 Thursday night.  She said that as she tried to drive away, Berger hit the car with his hands, pulled off a door handle, and threw it at the car.

WECT was the only news crew at the jail when WPD took Berger to the New Hanover County Detention Facility. 

Berger's former fiancé, Heather Blaylock, spoke with WECT's Ashlea Kosikowski on the phone. She wouldn't discuss the specifics of the incident. She did say that the "situation got out of hand" and repeatedly stated that she loves Berger.

However, her feelings toward him likely won't impact the future of his court case.

In New Hanover County, District Attorney Ben David said his office has a policy when it comes to domestic violence cases, where even if the victim wants to drop charges, in the end, the decision is up to David.  (Editor's note: Last week, we referred to this on-line and on-air as "no drop," but David told us this week the policy is called "informed review.")

"We pursue cases based on a whole list of factors, including whether there will be other witnesses or other evidence," he said. "Despite whether the victims want to go forward or not, we certainly give them a voice in the process. But ultimately these charges belong to the state of North Carolina and not the victim."

County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield said he is praying for Berger.  He is waiting to speak to his fellow commissioner before making any official comments about the situation.

Commissioner Ted Davis and Bruce Shell have no comment, and a message was left for Commissioner Rick Catlin.

Ben McCoy released a statement Friday afternoon supporting Berger.  He said calls for Berger's resignation are "entirely premature, and exemplify the predefined internal opinions against him anyway in general, on the part of those making such statements."

[Read McCoy's entire statement (PDF)]

NHC Sheriff launches investigation into release of records

(WECT) – New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon is launching an investigation in regards to a possible breach of the state's personnel policy, even though District Attorney Ben David has determined no laws were broken in the release of the information about Commissioner Brian Berger receiving unemployment benefits.

David investigated alleged violation of a New Hanover County Commissioner's rights and said his office looked into the claims after receiving emails from concerned citizens.

According to David, the county claims it had no legal basis to refuse a records request by the Wilmington StarNews. David said he and Berger's attorney agree no crime was committed by releasing the documents.

Berger, however, is bothered how it happened. He believes some of the documents were leaked, which led to the public record request.

The sheriff's office investigation will focus on the person or persons who may be responsible for alerting others the documents exist.

Prior to his arrest, Berger had told WECT's Jon Evans that there was no trouble at his home Thursday night.  Berger did say, however, that he spoke to a detective earlier in the day regarding a county investigation into the leak of personnel information about his recent unemployment filing.

The Wilmington Star-News reported last week that Berger had been on unemployment until recently.  The sheriff's department is investigating to see whether or not anyone at the county level illegally released private information to the media. 

WECT obtained this memo from County Manager Bruce Shell to all New Hanover County employees sent Thursday regarding the investigation:

The Sheriff has initiated an investigation due to information provided the Star News.  The information came from an unknown source which could include someone from the county.  This serious matter will be reviewed by the District Attorney upon completion.  Below, is the official release to you all regarding this matter.


TO:        All County Employees
FROM:  Bruce Shell

RE:       Criminal Investigation

DATE:  June 9, 2011

The New Hanover County Sheriff's Office is conducting an investigation related to circumstances surrounding the release of information pertaining to Commissioner Berger.

I ask that you fully cooperate with the investigating deputies should you be interviewed.  Anyone having relevant information may contact Detective Crowningshield at 798-4273.

You should not make any public comment while the Sheriff's investigation is underway in order to insure the integrity of the process.

I thank you for your professionalism and your full and complete assistance with this investigation.

Berger took office late last year as a New Hanover County Commissioner and has recently been embroiled in controversy with his fellow commissioners, including a verbal alteration between Berger and Commissioner Ted Davis at a recent meeting.

At the time, Chairman Jonathan Barfield told WECT.com that Berger was not working with the board on a common vision.

"We've got one person right now who wants to do their own thing. It's unfortunate for citizens," Barfield said in May.

Stay with WECT and WECT.com for continuing coverage of this incident.

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