WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — New Hanover County Commissioner Brian Berger is back in Wilmington and being held in the New Hanover County Jail under $300,000 bond.
The charges listed on the jail’s website are failure to comply and probation violation. He is due in court Thursday afternoon.
Investigators in western North Carolina say the sound of gun shots earlier this week led them to Berger and to his eventual arrest.
WWAY has also learned that Berger was staying at the home of Justin LaNasa, a Wilmington business owner who has run for several local offices.
According to a news release from Beech Mountain Police Chief Jerry Turbyfill, an officer received a complaint Monday night about the sound of gun shots near their home. The officer responded to what he determined was the only home the shots could have come from and knocked on the door several times. Eventually the officer looked through a window and saw a man peeking around a corner inside. He asked the man, who later identified himself as Berger, if he’d been shooting, but Berger said no. He warned Berger than firing a gun in the town limits was a crime, and he would be charged if it happened again.
According to the release, the officer checked Berger’s information and found his past criminal charges, but Berger was not wanted at the time. Turbyfill says the officer felt that Berger’s actions were suspicious, especially because he would not open the front door despite being asked several times.
The next day, officers did some more digging and found an Order for Arrest for Berger from New Hanover County for a probation violation had been issued the night before.
Berger is on probation after pleading guilty in February to DWI and misdemeanor drug possession. According to court documents filed Monday in New Hanover County, a violation report was filed against Berger because he reportedly left his last known address at the Jameson Inn in Wilmington last month and could not be reached, “thereby absconding supervision.” The report also claims Berger has failed to complete 48 hours of community service within the ordered 120-day timeframe, that he refused to submit to a drug test last month after admitted using marijuana and that he was pulled over in March in Johnston County for driving while his license was revoked.
As a result, police officers from Beech Mountain and Banner Elk along with state probation officers went to the home where Berger was staying. When they got to the home, officers say they looked through a window and saw Berger on a sofa.
“Several weapons were observed in easy reach of Mr. Berger,” Turbyfill said in the release. “He was ordered to open the door multiple times, and he refused to open the door. At that time, while he was distracted, officers forced open the rear door of the residence and were able to take him into custody without further incident. He did not resist, he displayed no violence and did not try to reach for a weapon.”
Officers found air guns, rifles with high capacity ammunition drums, pistols, various knives, including a switch blade and a sword, a crossbow and a 37mm launcher in the home Turbyfill said. He said the homeowner, a friend of Berger and former federal agent, said the weapons had been securely locked in another part of the house, which Berger had gotten access to without the owner’s permission. Turbyfill said the homeowner, who was not at the house during all this, had agreed to let Berger stay for a couple of weeks, but had no knowledge of Berger’s problems and “just felt he was down on his luck, and was trying to help him out.”
LaNasa told WWAY today he let Berger stay at the house because the commissioner wanted to get away. He said he did not know about the terms of Berger’s probation that may prevent him from being there.
LaNasa says he has spent the last two days at the home cleaning up the mess Berger left behind. LaNasa says Berger acted like a 16-year-old when his parents leave them home alone. He says Berger took advantage of him and is not allowed to stay at the mountain house any more. LaNasa says his guns were locked away in a personal area, but Berger broke in.
Beech Mountain Police say all the guns appear to have been legally owned and properly stored by LaNasa. They say Berger could face more charges for breaking and entering into the weapons if LaNasa wants to press charges. LaNasa told WWAY he is meeting with police this afternoon.
Turbyfill says NC Probation officers took Berger to the Avery County Jail, where he is in custody under $300,000 bond. Beech Mountain Police charged him with possession of drug paraphernalia after they found a glass marijuana pipe. Turbyfill says they did not find any illegal drugs.
Turbyfill says none of the responding officers knew Berger was a New Hanover County Commissioner until well after the arrest.