NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – New Hanover County Commissioner Brian Berger was found guilty Tuesday morning of violating a protection order.
Judge Shelly Holt says Berger went to his ex-girlfriend's place of work, regardless of whether she was there or not.
Berger was sentenced to 48 hours in the custody of a sheriff. The $25,000 bond he posted Friday remains in place. Goolsby appealed the guilty verdict, which will be heard by Superior Court.
The commissioner was charged for violating a personal protection order after he attended a community action meeting that his ex-girlfriend, Heather Blaylock, works for. Blaylock filed the protection order in September, a week after she told police Berger was trying to hurt himself.
When WECT.com asked Berger for a comment based on the ruling, he responded with a statement, saying, "Today's decision, with all due respect, is demeaning, dishonorable and questionable-at-best. It's noteworthy that the fiction, inaccuracies, distortions and predetermined outcome, for nefarious purpose, was handed down earlier by a judge with significant conflicts of interest, which should have been revealed. The hearing was not properly conducted, either!"
Berger also added, "The protective Order should be rescinded since it was granted to the aggressor and serves no purpose, restoring the rights I cherish, and due process, innocent until proven guilty, Judge Criner had one mission, to make me quit as Commissioner when her friends led the "forced resignation" effort. The judge today seemed to have a keen mind, professional and predisposed to escalations of commitment instead of challenging the established letter and intent of the laws of the land."
Berger's attorney, Thom Goolsby, said Tuesday that the November meeting in question was advertised as John H. McCoy Auditorium, not as Head Start. Head Start Executive Director Cynthia Brown said the auditorium is connected to and is a part of the Head Start Facility.
In the statement, Berger also claims that he was not in contact with Blaylock when she began working with Head Start.
"I was not in contact with Heather at the time she signed on with this organization that runs Head Start in NHC. I wasn't initiating contact and to rub salt in my wounds by depriving me of the rights and liberty I hold so dear, knowing how important that is to me, and refusing to let me make a clean break, needed to control me, unable to let me walk away with no hooks - she has and can use to control me and which Heather has already used to make off with thousands of dollars of my property, and she used my credit cards to pay for whatever she needed..."
Blaylock testified Tuesday morning saying she was invited to the meeting in November but didn't attend. She didn't know Berger had attended until the next morning.
Brown said she was a little concerned in November when Berger showed up to the meeting and notified law enforcement. She said she never interacted with the commissioner but did express her concerns to board representative and clerk Sheila Schult.
Sgt. Curtis Barnhill with the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office also testified Tuesday morning. He serves on the Head Start Board and said Brown notified him of Berger's presence at the annual meeting in November.
Barnhill said he spoke with Berger in the hallway, asking the commissioner if he had made prior arrangements to attend the meeting. He said Berger told him that he can't let Blaylock keep him from doing his job and he assumed she was at home with her children.
Goolsby argued that Barnhill didn't locate Blaylock, so Berger didn't violate the order, but the judge sustained his argument.
Berger took the stand and said he would have been breaking a campaign promise of fighting corruption if he didn't go to Head Start's annual meeting that night. He claims he lost track of Blaylock's position with Head Start after their break up, so he didn't know where she was working.
Berger wrapped up on the stand a little before 11:30 Tuesday morning.
Berger was expected in court last Friday after his case had been continued earlier this month, but he never showed up. The judge issued a warrant for the commissioner's arrest Friday morning around 10:45 and deputies had him in custody within the next half hour.
Deputies took Berger to court where the judge issued a $25,000 secured bond, and the Assistant District Attorney requested a mental evaluation. Berger was found competent to stand trial, but the completed evaluation won't be released to the public.
The commissioner posted bond Friday night and was released from the New Hanover County Detention Facility at that time.
Berger was also facing other charges regarding Blaylock, including assault on a female and injury to personal property. According to Goolsby, he received a prayer for judgment for the injury to personal property charge and the assault charge was dropped.
The commissioner was arrested in June by Wilmington Police officers after he ripped a car door handle off Blaylock's car.
Goolsby will meet with the judge July 16 to discuss the two charges that were dismissed to ensure that they were clear to drop.