AVERY COUNTY, NC (WECT) - On Thursday afternoon, New Hanover County Commissioner Brian Berger made his first court appearance in New Hanover County after being arrested in Avery County, NC for violating his probation and for having drug paraphernalia.
Following the court hearing Berger is facing a possible "active" 120 day jail sentence on the DWI case in New Hanover County because he absconded, did not perform community service or drug screening, and drove without approval to drive.
DA Ben David said no felony charges will be filed against Berger, which would result in the forfeit of his elected seat on the NHC Commissioners Board.
Berger sought and will receive a court-appointed attorney. It is not clear who Berger's attorney will be.
According to Beech Mountain Police Department Chief Jerry Turbyfill, an officer received a complaint from a citizen that there was the sound of gun shots in the area of their home. Officers responded and discovered the only residence it could have come was occupied by Berger. We would later find out that the residence was partially owned by local businessman Justin LaNasa.
After knocking repeatedly, Berger finally spoke with the officer through glass panels on the front door. The officer asked Berger if he had been firing any weapons. Berger shook his head, indicating no. The officer did not see any weapons in the room, however he instructed Berger that discharging a firearm in town was illegal.
The officer left and detailed report and noted that Berger was "acting odd" however he was not wanted at the time so the officer left.
The next day, officers discovered an Order for Arrest violation of the conditions of his probation in New Hanover County. Officers from the Beech Mountain PD, Banner Elk PD and the state probation officers responded to the residence and saw Berger through the glass panels with multiple weapons in easy reach. Officers ordered Berger to open the door multiple times but he refused.
While officers distracted Berger, several other officers kicked down the rear door and were able to take Berger into custody without incident.
Numerous weapons were found including air guns, rifles with high capacity ammunition drums, pistols, various knives, including a switch blade and a sword, a crossbow and even a 37mm launcher.
Berger had gained access to these weapons from another part of the house without consent of their owner, Justin LaNasa, who was renting the home at the time. LaNasa said he was letting Berger stay there to relax and go fishing and he wasn't there during the incident.
Berger was transported to Avery County Jail by N.C. Probation Officers. Beech Mountain police officers charged Berger with possession of drug paraphernalia for a glass marijuana pipe, however no illegal drugs were found.
On the phone, LaNasa said that he spent most of the day Wednesday cleaning his cabin which he said Berger left in disarray.
"It was in disarray, it took me several hours to clean up and take trash out, it was a mess. Any vacation rental would have to hire someone to come in and clean the place."
LaNasa said that he had no idea Berger was reportedly avoiding his probation officer and was just trying to help his friend out by letting him enjoy the cabin.
LaNasa said both the arrest and the fact that Berger had allegedly broken into his bedroom to get to his weapons was appalling.
"It seemed like the door was taken off of the hinges, he bypassed the padlock that was on my door, and to me that's just wrong you don't do that to someone's personal property," LaNasa said. "I feel for the guy but I've washed my hands of him I can't even be his friend anymore, it's a shame that you show someone kindness or friendship and you know they take advantage of the situation like this."
LaNasa also said he hopes Berger can get the help that he needs. Fellow NHC Commissioner Jonathan Barfield also hope Berger's family will help.
"In my opinion the election in November and the seating of the new board in December will allow the county to move past this distraction. If he's convicted of a felony, I believe that would be grounds for immediate removal. Brian is indeed in my prayers. He needs his family to step in and get him the help he needs," Barfield said.
According to a violation report filed on 6/9/14, Berger violated the conditions of his probation in several ways:
1 - He reportedly willfully avoided supervision or made his whereabouts unknown to the supervising probation officer. The report states: "On or about 5/21/14 the offender left his last known residence located at the Jamision Inn, 5102 Dunlea Court, Room 201, Wilmington, NC. Numerous attempts have been made to contact this offender to include home contacts at last known residence, emails, texts and telephone contacts. Offender has refused to return these attempts or to make his whereabouts known to the supervision officer and willfully avoided supervision, thereby absconding supervision."
2 - He reportedly refused to submit to a drug screen by a probation/parole officer on 5/21/14.
3- On 5/21/14 he reportedly admitted to using marijuana prior to his scheduled appointment.
4 - He reportedly failed to follow through with a TASC Assessment (2/3/14 and 3/26/14) and follow any recommended education or treatment as ordered by the court. (TASC or Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities, according to their website, the organization provides care management services to people with substance abuse or mental illness).
5 - He was reportedly charged on 3/25/14 with DWLR in Johnston County, if convicted it would be a violation of his probation.
Berger pleaded guilty Feb. 3, 2014 to one count of DWI and misdemeanor possession of schedule II narcotic that stemmed from an arrest Dec. 6, 2013.
The commissioner was sentenced to 48 hours of community service followed by supervised probation where he will be screened for alcohol or drugs.
For violating his probation, Berger could serve 45 days in jail as part of the sentencing from his prior DWI conviction.