HOUSTON - Darian Ward, the former press secretary of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, was indicted Thursday.
KPRC2 investigative reporter Mario Diaz obtained a copy of the indictment that charges Ward with failure or refusal of an officer to provide public information.
In the indictment, the grand jury said that as an officer of public information for the city of Houston, Ward “failed and refused to give access to and permit and provide copying of public information.”
City Council members Michael Kubosh and Dave Martin both expressed surprise at the indictment.
"It was some information that we knew was coming, but we didn't think they would have an indictment. We thought it was over," Martin said.
Failure to comply with a Texas Public Information Act Request is rarely prosecuted, but Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg's Office investigated the allegations against Ward after Channel 2 Investigates revealed Ward was suspended for not turning over thousands of pages of emails.
Thursday morning, six months after the scandal broke, a prosecutor presented the case before a grand jury.
Turner's office released this statement Thursday following the indictment's release:
"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 resigned in January after KPRC2 investigated her misuse of city resources to the benefit of her personal production company.
The resignation followed Ward’s 10-day suspension in December after an internal inspection uncovered more than 5,000 pages consisting of more than 2,000 emails showing Ward pursued reality show production deals in New York and Los Angeles while using her city government email account.
If convicted, Ward faces up to six months in county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
Ward’s defense attorney Chris Tritico spoke with Channel 2 Investigates concerning his client’s indictment: “We were pretty surprised. Simple fact of the matter is Ms. Ward did not commit crime.”
Tritico said Ward never should have been indicted, stating the grand jury was wrong.
Mark Stephens, a former lead investigator for the Houston Police Department’s Public Integrity Review, questions whether or not investigators will pursue other charges surrounding what Ward’s emails showed -- numerous attempts to leverage her position as the mayor’s press secretary to land reality television production deals for her private company.
“I think they have followed where the emails led to, instead of looking at the fact that she didn’t just send some emails.”
The prosecution of an individual who allegedly violated the Texas Public Information Act is rare. In fact, Council member Kubosh, a bail bondsman for years, provided some context to Channel 2 Investigates at the uniqueness of the indictment.
“I have bonded out probably 10,000 people in my lifetime. I’ve never seen this type of a charge.”
Coincidentally, the indictment comes less than 48 hours after Channel 2 Investigates revealed Andy Icken failed to comply with a TPIA act made by KPRC to the mayor’s office.
That request was sent to the city only a handful of weeks after Ward abruptly resigned amid scandal.
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