SAN FRANCISCO — Prominent California Democratic strategist Nathan Ballard — a longtime friend and adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom — was arrested and jailed on two felony domestic violence charges in Napa that include an allegation of attempting to suffocate a four-year-old child with a pillow.
Ballard, 51, was booked on Oct. 18 on two felony charges of willful cruelty to a child with possible injury and death, and domestic violence, according to documents on file with the Napa County Sheriff’s Office, shared with POLITICO. He will be formally charged Thursday, according to Napa County Assistant District Attorney Paul Gero.
The founder of The Press Shop, a San Francisco-based public relations firm, Ballard is also currently on the board of The Representation Project, a nonprofit founded by First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom to advance women’s rights.
“I’ve spent my career in crisis communications fighting on behalf the wrongfully accused, and now for the first time I really know what it feels like to be in their shoes,” Ballard told POLITICO in a text message. “I will be exonerated. I love my children more than anything on earth, and we will be reunited.”
The former San Francisco deputy city attorney has been called a “media whisperer” for his high profile roles as the mouthpiece and crisis communications point person for a parade of public figures and A-list corporate clients. He served as spokesperson for then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, a role he has also played for the Democratic National Committee and the California Democratic Party, the Getty family, the Golden State Warriors, the Super Bowl and for the presidential campaigns of former Sen. John Kerry and Gen. Wesley Clark.
Henry Wofford, spokesperson for the Napa County Sheriff’s Department, confirmed Ballard’s arrest in Napa. None of the three victims — an adult and two children — are identified due to privacy concerns.
Sources say the events occurred at the swanky Carneros Resort and Spa where, according to victim statements, Ballard reportedly “had consumed a large amount of alcohol and some marijuana.’’
The adult victim told authorities that Ballard “charged her and pushed her with both hands into the glass doors,’’ causing her to fall and hit the back of her head on the door. Ballard also stumbled and fell onto the ground, bleeding, according to documents on file with the Napa County Sheriff’s department.
Then Ballard “attempted to suffocate the child victim with the pillow,’’ the adult victim told the police. “Ballard grabbed the pillow from the bed, placed it onto the child victim and laid on top of the pillow, placing his weight on the child victim who was under the pillow,’’ according to the report.
The adult victim said “she was able to remove the child victim from the room,’’ and locked herself and another child in a separate room away from Ballard.
She reported the alleged attack to police the next morning, and when officers arrived, Ballard had gone, according to the report. The Napa County Sheriff‘s Office issued a warrant for Ballard’s arrest and, on Oct. 20, he was arrested and transported to the county jail, authorities said.
Anthony Brass, Ballard’s lawyer, said his client has substance abuse issues but was sober for eight years before his father died in April and he began drinking again.
“He is currently in a residential recovery program to deal with his drinking problem in a responsible, comprehensive manner,” Brass said.
The latest developments represent a shocking fall for a strategist who has been at the center of some of California’s biggest political stories. In addition to a long association with Newsom, dating back to his days as mayoral spokesperson, Ballard was an adviser to former San Francisco Mayors Ed Lee and Mark Farrell, and served as a spokesperson for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf in the aftermath of the Ghost Ship fire tragedy.
Even after his recent arrest, Ballard has weighed in as a pundit familiar with Newsom’s thinking on the appointment of a U.S. Senate candidate to fill Kamala Harris’ seat.
“It can’t be somebody who needs a lot of babysitting and hand-holding,” Ballard told the Associated Press in mid-November. “If you are the governor, you want to use this to play chess and add some qualified new blood to vacant offices.”
“Diversity is a given,” he told KQED. “It’s not going to be someone who looks like Gavin,” meaning not a straight, white male.
And Ballard predicted to NPR in early November that California Secretary of State Alex Padilla was the best positioned for the spot. “He is eminently qualified for the position, and of all the contenders, he’s the most senatorial,” Ballard said.
Ballard’s agency, The Press Shop, expanded from its San Francisco home office to Sacramento in 2019, with a high profile client on board — the 30,000-member California Correctional Peace Officers Association.
Ballard represented a statewide coalition of legal cannabis companies who backed the drive to pass Proposition 64 to legalize recreational marijuana, and has also represented PG&E as it faced bankruptcy and withering public scrutiny in the wake of the state’s devastating wildfires.
Earlier this year, Ballard served as spokesperson for the Oakmont Management Group, a chain of elder care providers in California which agreed to pay $500,000 to settle lawsuits from state and local prosecutors after some 100 frail residents were abandoned during the October 2017 firestorm, the North Bay Business Journal reported.
In a November 2019 story in Better magazine, Ballard — a father of four young children — was profiled as one of “the Bay Area’s most successful dads.” He called his home in Kentfield “a special place for my wife Mara and me.”
“We met there at a Christmas dinner at Jennifer and Gavin’s home,” he said, referring to the governor and first partner.