HOUSTON – Less than a week after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he had gone above and beyond the call of duty by suspending his press secretary, Darian Ward, there are still questions as to how the case was handled.
"It's a clear violation of the law,” said Mark Stephens, the former lead investigator of the Houston's Police Department's Public Integrity Review Unit. The unit, which was designed to expose public corruption within the city, was dissolved years ago.
Stephens said what has transpired within Turner’s inner circle of late is exactly the type of case the unit would have investigated.
"We would have jumped on that kind of case," he said.
The self-inflicted controversy emerging from Ward's situation focuses on the failure to disclose nearly 5,000 emails that should have been released under the Texas Public Information Act. Those emails focused on her side business, Joy In Motion, a production company Ward has touted on a city of Houston webpage.
A suspension letter sent to Ward on Dec. 11 states the city’s Office of Inspector General investigated and found Ward failed to comply with state law. Her supervisor concluded Ward worked on her side business on city time.
She was suspended without pay for 10 days.
Turner was defiant in his defense of Ward, telling Channel 2 Investigates last Wednesday that she did her job “extremely well” while making it clear that "the matter is closed. It was looked at by legal, as well as HR (Human Resources)."
Stephens said that Turner's legal team is in uncharted waters.
"They have no authority over criminal investigations, so to put them now in charge and let them be the deciding factor is nonsense," he said.
Stephens carefully examined Turner's signed suspension letter and said the city now has a problem after acknowledging Ward violated Texas law.
"The DA's office needs to look at it and there needs to be an investigation. That's what investigations are all about,” Stephens said.
Channel 2 Investigates learned Monday night that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is following the case and is waiting for the city’s Office of Inspector General to provide evidence.
In a statement provided to Channel 2 Investigates, District Attorney Kim Ogg said:
“We will review the evidence and apply the law once the evidence is received from the City of Houston’s Office of Inspector General.”