HOUSTON— Darian Ward, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner's former press secretary, has been released on a $500 bond after turning herself in Monday to the Harris County Sheriff's Office.
Ward was indicted by a grand jury on July 19 and charged with failure or refusal of an officer to provide public information. She is accused of misusing city time and resources for her own personal gain.
Ward came under fire after it was discovered that, while on the job, she was allegedly using her status in the mayor's office as a means to promote her own personal production company, Joy in Motion.
It was alleged that Ward sent thousands of emails from her official city email address, soliciting donations for non-city related charities, pitching reality shows and a number of other non-work related events. Investigators believe she used her city email address as "muscle" to help persuade the parties in which she was reaching out to.
Investigators say many of the disputed e-mails were also about a reality TV show Ward was pitching.
"When a reporter ended up getting wind of it," prosecutor Stuart Tallichet said. "She again used her office to again cover it up."
Ward was initially suspended for two weeks without pay but succumbed to public pressure and resigned in January. However, by withholding thousands of e-mails as requested, Ward could not ward off legal trouble.
Defense attorney Chris Tritico is representing Ward.
"There is an exception to the public information act that if the request is merely for personal information, it`s not subject to release under the public information act and this request was for personal information," he said.
Tritico doesn't deny his client conducted personal business on the city's time and dime.
"The mayor punished her for violating city policy, that does not make that a crime under the Texas Public Information Act. It's two different things," he said.
He maintains a city employee's e-mails about private business affairs are not public record, even when sent using a city e-mail account.
"It's our view, that under the law, this was not subject to release. Period," he said.
"Really, it's about government transparency," Tallichet said.
The mayor's office released a statement Thursday in regard to the indictment:
“Mayor Turner expects every city of Houston employee to comply with the Texas Public Information Act. Questions about today’s grand jury decision should be directed to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
The mayor is currently on a trade mission in South America, where he is focused on promoting Houston, and growing business and cultural ties in Peru, Chile and Argentina.”
Ward faces up to six months in jail, up to a $1,000 fine, or a combination of both, if convicted.