Darian Ward, Houston mayor's ex-press secretary, accepts plea deal

HOUSTON – Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s former press secretary Darian Ward is used to being in front of the cameras as a spokesperson and former member of the press. However, Tuesday morning was a first for Ward.

Ward stepped before the cameras outside of the 248th District Court in Houston and apologized for her actions while working on the taxpayer's dime.

“My intention was to create TV and film content that would elevate the city of Houston to a national platform," Ward said.

Minutes earlier, Ward pleaded guilty to abuse of official capacity for having done personal work as a public official.

Ward apologized to Turner in a prepared statement she read.

“I let my desire get in the way of my good judgment,” Ward said.

In a criminal complaint filed last Friday, Harris County prosecutor Stuart Tallichet wrote that Ward "intentionally and knowingly misuse(d) government property, government services and things of value belonging to the government."  

Tallichet went on to list “computers, cell phones, email service and internet service and time” as items abused by Ward while working for the public. Ward’s attorney, Chris Tritico, summed up as follows, "Sending the emails to the production companies was in effect personal, and you are not allowed to do that."

VIDEO: Ward reads her prepared statement

The complaint stated that the abuse began in March 2014 and ended over three years later in November 2017. The value of the property and services abused was at least $750 and no more than $2,500, according to the complaint.  

The original indictment against Ward pertained to violating the Texas Public Information Act. That charge was dismissed by prosecutors Tuesday morning. 

"The defense wanted a pretrial diversion in this case, and we were willing to offer it, and as a concession they were willing to admit guilt to the higher class A misdemeanor charge of abuse of official capacity,” said Tallichet. 

Ward’s attorney said that once Ward fulfills her legal obligations as a result of the deal, it will be as if nothing ever happened.

“When this is over, this will be a dismissal of all charges against her and an (expungement) of her record, and that is exactly where we wanted this case to the end,” Tritico said.

Near the conclusion of her statement, Ward quoted actor Robert Downey Jr. in reference to what has happened this year, saying, "Sometimes, you have to get drop-kicked out of the nest and I would add in order to spread your wings and fly."

Where Ward lands next is uncertain. Tritico told Channel 2 Investigates she should not be disqualified from working on the taxpayers' dime in the future. “People make mistakes, but the mistake she made is minor compared to what we see people do every day."

Prosecutors said Ward will be supervised by the Harris County Probation Department.

"She must not commit any new crimes. She must also perform 30 hours of community service and pay a $500 fine," prosecutors said.

If Ward breaks the terms of the pretrial diversion program, she risks renewed prosecution of the crime, up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.