Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Berger released from jail, enters jail diversion program

New Hanover County Commissioner Brian Berger was released from jail Thursday to start his transition to a jail diversion program, as ordered by a judge in a hearing last week.

Berger is escorted out of the courtroom after receiving his sentence. He was to remain in custody until his jail diversion program could be arranged.
New Hanover County Commissioner Brian Berger is escorted out of a courtroom after a hearing last week. He was released from jail Thursday in accordance with an order that he enter a jail diversion program. File photo.

Berger was released from the custody of the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, public information officer Sgt. Jerry Brewer confirmed Friday morning. Berger had been held at the Brunswick County jail since the Sept. 9 hearing—a move Brewer described as “a security reason for us.”

“He had made a statement in open court that we had abused him, harassed him. Anytime someone makes a statement like that, even though it’s false,” Brewer said, “you wouldn’t turn around and up him back in your own jail.”

Berger had previously been transferred from the New Hanover County jail to Central Prison in Raleigh due to behavioral issues. He had been in custody since June 10, when he was arrested in Avery County on charges of violating his probation and possessing drug paraphernalia.

Following a delay due to a mental health assessment that found Berger incapable of participating in the hearing, District Judge Robin Robinson found Berger guilty of those charges but suspended additional jail time in favor of admitting Berger to a jail diversion program. His probation was also extended one year.

The jail diversion program, under the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, allows individuals with mental illness to be diverted from the criminal justice system to receive mental health treatment, according to a description on the department’s website.

In addition to his probation terms, which require him to maintain residence in New Hanover and report to a probation officer, Berger is required to attend regular sessions for treatment, specifically for what a second mental health assessment deemed a high level of anxiety.

Robinson also required Berger to wear an electronic monitoring device. She was told Berger would be staying with a friend who had agreed to the arrangement.

Robinson noted at the hearing last week that the second assessment found Berger did not meet the criteria for Asperger disorder, considered a high-functioning form of autism. In 2013, an attorney for Berger had said the commissioner had been diagnosed with autism.

Berger, whose commissioner term expires in December, has been on probation since February as part of a plea deal stemming from an impaired driving charge late last year. He was arrested in Avery County after police responded to a shots-fired call at a house where Berger was staying. Upon investigation, police found Berger in possession of a multiple weapons inside the home and a marijuana pipe.

Should Berger violate his probation again or fail to complete the jail diversion program, he faces a minimum of 75 days in jail on the impaired driving charge and a charge of possession of a controlled substance, having already served 90 days of a 165-day sentence.

He could also face additional charges in Avery and Johnston counties for possession of drug paraphernalia and driving while license revoked, respectively, District Attorney Ben David has said.

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Jonathan Spiers is a reporter for Port City Daily. He can be reached at (910) 772-6313 or jonathan.s@portcitydaily.com. On Twitter: @jrspiers

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