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Regional Interests

‘This Is Who He Is’: Mara Reinhardt Reveals Extent of Alleged Family Abuse by Prominent SF Polit

Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of alleged violent domestic abuse toward women and children.

Ever since former spokesperson-for-hire Nate Ballard’s arrest in October last year, for allegedly assaulting his wife and attempting to smother his child with a pillow in an incident at a Napa resort, the public relations expert has done what he does best:

Talk.

He’s talked to media. He’s talked to the public. He’s talked to his allies in San Francisco government. In every case, Ballard — who served as a top aide to Gov. Gavin Newsom while Newsom was mayor of San Francisco — has characterized the event as a misunderstanding brought on by grief and alcohol use disorder.

Now, as the legal saga comes to a close nearly a year later, Ballard’s wife Mara Reinhardt finally told her side of the harrowing tale in public: She says Ballard abused her and their children for years, subjecting them to psychological torment. Ballard was sentenced to probation Thursday after striking a plea deal.

Reinhardt’s victim impact statement, which she read aloud in Napa County Superior Court last week, came after a long list of prominent, politically connected San Franciscans — including the head of a domestic violence shelter and a former city police chief — had continued to back Ballard in a separate but related family court proceeding.

But Reinhardt, who filed for divorce shortly after the Napa incident and who agreed to the plea deal — which calls for Ballard to stay away from their two young children for six years — says he is too dangerous to be near them.

“For those who know me, you know that being up here today is one of the most frightening things I have ever done,” Reinhardt told the court.

“I lost my way in our relationship and allowed Nate to do unspeakable things to me,” she said. “I know that Nate, who earns a substantial living as a public relations expert, is a master spin doctor and would have the court, the public, and probation believe this was a one-time event. I’d feel less shame, less regret, less erosion of myself if it were.”

She had a purpose in finally speaking out.

“I am here for our safety and for our protection from Nathan Ballard,” Reinhardt said.

Her version of events is dramatically different from Ballard’s.

Ballard — the former press secretary for Newsom while he was mayor, a former San Francisco deputy city attorney and a former city police union spokesperson — has for months told his side of the story, featuring apologies and explanations that a long-running struggle with alcohol use disorder swayed his behavior. He even, at one point, claimed he fell asleep on his child, countering his wife’s accusation that he grabbed a pillow and used his entire body’s weight to smother their daughter’s face.

“The allegations made against me by Mara are mostly false, and the remainder are grossly exaggerated,” Ballard told KQED on Tuesday, in a written statement. “I never harmed my daughter, and I never would have agreed to any settlement that required me to say that I did.”

“I refuse to be sidelined by regrets,” Ballard added. “We all fall down sometimes. It is getting back up that matters most.”

His talk garnered goodwill from allies — including former San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr, former San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell and the executive director of domestic violence help organization La Casa de las Madres, Kathy Black — who sang his praises in a legal fashion, filing attestations to his good character in court.

They repeatedly told the court they could not imagine him doing the things his wife claims.

All throughout, Reinhardt, 37, mostly kept her point of view between herself and law enforcement authorities. Reinhardt is a Pilates instructor — and, by her own admission, doesn’t have the same skill with words as Ballard, who has made a living spinning stories to his clients’ advantage.

Reinhardt broke her silence by recounting her version of events in the public statement she read aloud in court last Thursday. KQED obtained a transcript of her account, which was submitted to the court but is not a publicly available document. KQED verified the transcription’s veracity with Reinhardt’s attorney, Amanda Bevins.

In the 2,600-word statement, Reinhardt alleged Ballard isolated her from friends and family for years and had physically harmed their children before, to the point where they cower in fear when they see any black Tesla on the street, the same car he drives. Their daughter still wakes in the night confused and crying, and often says she cannot breathe at bedtime, Reinhardt said, indicating ongoing trauma from the pillow-smothering incident.

The statement also alleges Ballard, who has made a career representing businesses like the NFL and the Golden State Warriors, made an anti-Black racist comment in the course of trying to control the clients he’d allow Reinhardt to take.

Reinhardt declined to comment to KQED, instead opting to let her testimony stand for itself. The names of their children, ages 3 and 5, have been redacted by KQED from her testimony and will not be used, for their protection.

Read Reinhardt’s full victim impact statement.

Mara Reinhardt recorded herself re-reading her victim impact statement, and shared that recording with KQED. KQED has bleeped out portions of the recording where Reinhardt mentions her children’s names. Warning: This recording contains graphic descriptions of alleged violent domestic abuse. Listen:

Skip to: Resources for survivors of domestic violence

Not the first time

Ballard’s defense against Reinhardt’s accusations boils down to this: He says the pillow-smothering incident was isolated, due to his alcohol use disorder and exacerbated by the death of his father, and that he is now in a recovery program to heal himself. He denies he assaulted his daughter. He submitted letters from various recovery program staff and logs of his time in such programs, and swore he would one day be a new man.

In public and to the Napa County court, Ballard has repeatedly denied his wife’s version of events.

“I will say I am not proud of the way I conducted myself that evening. Mara and I both drank too much,” Ballard told the court in filings. “That said, I adamantly deny hurting [my daughter] that evening or at any previous time.”

“I am actively engaged in a daily program of recovery,” he told KQED on Tuesday.

But in her statement, Reinhardt said the Oct. 17, 2020, incident was a clear attack, and that it wasn’t the first time.

His dark moods were not “an aberration, as he would have everyone believe,” she said. His attacks, “had nothing to do with his father or with alcohol.” Reinhardt said Ballard would behave this way even when sober.

“This is who he is,” she said.

Ballard allegedly cut Reinhardt off from friends and family. She said he “isolated” her, showing up unannounced when she was with friends or her sister and would “stay until I left.” At public events he would not allow her to go beyond his sight. Even when she went to the bathroom he would follow her and wait outside the door, she said.

Reinhardt said Ballard also isolated her in regard to her career and their finances, having all financial correspondence sent to his office so she could not see it. She said he also dictated the clients she coached and forbade her to train professional athletes.

“He told me I was a disgusting cunt and that training them would ruin his image,” she wrote. “That people would think his wife is disgusting. He said that Black people are thugs and that they will rape me.”

Part of Ballard’s career in public life involves attending parties with politicos, making face time with the wealthy and powerful. His website lists the Golden State Warriors, a Super Bowl 50 event hosted by the late Mayor Ed Lee, and former Sen. John Kerry as past clients. He served on a board for The Representation Project, started by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. As recently as last week he was quoted in a news story on behalf of one of his clients, the California Correctional Peace Officer’s Association, the union that represents state prison officers.

It was at San Francisco’s frequent galas, balls and various shindigs that he made the connections that kept his name on the lips of the state’s power players.

Reinhardt was told by Ballard she would need to attend these events regularly or “suffer the consequences,” she said.

“I would have to go and sing his praises only to come home [and] have him be angry and abusive,” she said. “He would try to make me [have] sex and if I refused, I was scared he would punish me or my kids. I would lock myself in their room to hide from Nate.”

Life with Ballard was unpredictable, she told the court. She lived in fear of Nate’s moods and “wrath.” He would also make comments about their daughter that Reinhardt described as “disgusting and creepy.”

“The men are going to love her,” Reinhardt recounted Ballard saying.

She left their home countless times fearing for her safety, and the safety of her children. She became numb to him, she said, and stayed in their marriage for fear of what he would do to their children if she ever were to leave. When their now 5-year-old daughter was 6 months old, Reinhardt said Ballard told her that if she left him, “he would kill me and kill [our daughter].”

“From that moment, I felt trapped,” she wrote.

‘Narcissistic, sociopathic fury’

Until Ballard’s sentencing last week, Reinhardt had never publicly spoken about the alleged assault of Oct. 17, 2020, nor of Ballard’s public defense of his actions.

Reinhardt and her children were staying at the Carneros Resort and Spa in Napa, and Ballard arrived a bit later the same day. “He showed up with a look in his eye that I had seen many times before,” Reinhardt said.

She expected his behavior to escalate.

Reinhardt spent the afternoon and evening trying to calm Ballard down. He called her “a cunt, a bitch, a whore as his words and body language became more vile, aggressive, erratic, and scary,” she said.

But, Reinhardt said, “this was not an argument that got out of hand.” Instead, it was one of his familiar and unprovoked rages.

Ballard has previously said he fell asleep on top of his daughter, a claim he supports with a comment his daughter made to a Napa County detective that she thought she heard him snoring. Reinhardt countered that this story emerged only because she actively tried to shield her daughter from the truth by telling her that the attack was an instance of Ballard becoming sick with COVID, and that they stayed locked in a bedroom to “keep away from his germs.”

“This is what I told her to protect her and explain a big scary thing,” she said. “It’s not because it was anywhere close to what she truly knew had happened.”

Instead, Reinhardt said, what happened was this: Ballard, shouting and in a rage, shoved Reinhardt into a glass door.

“There is no doubt in my mind that in the final charge towards me, as he had his hands in the air aimed at my neck, that Nate would have killed me that night,” she said.

He wasn’t finished. Next, Ballard, whom Reinhardt described as a strong, 200-plus-pound man, “fortified by a narcissistic, sociopathic fury and an unprovoked, blind irrational rage I knew all too well,” attacked their daughter, shouting and hurling profanities, calling their daughter a “cunt and a bitch.”

Reinhardt saw her daughter lying in bed, her arms flailing, as Ballard held a large pillow on top of her. He leaned on the pillow with his full weight, Reinhardt said.

“What I didn’t know was whether I would be able to pull him off of [my daughter] before she stopped breathing,” Reinhardt said. “He could have killed her and had I not been there, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have.”

Reinhardt said she used all of her strength to push Ballard off their daughter. They escaped to another bedroom where the other child, then 3 years old, was sleeping, and locked the door.

While the arrival of police brought an end to that particular nightmare, the public relations barrage would soon begin.

SF politicos stand up for Ballard

A profile of Ballard in “San Francisco” magazine’s “Power Issue” from December 2016 described him as a “preeminent media whisperer” who represents a “veritable Yellow Pages of powerful clients.” He’s frequently quoted by the press as an insider with intimate knowledge of Gov. Gavin Newsom, whom he represented when Newsom was mayor.

Yet his actions in October took a toll. In court documents, Ballard claims his $10 million public relations agency “collapsed overnight.”

His clients? They “fled,” he told the court.

But his agency’s collapse didn’t stop him from tapping some of those friends in high places to help him. More than 40 friends (and some family) wrote mitigation letters in his defense, asking the family court for leniency. That proceeding was separate from the ongoing Napa County criminal court case, but was related as it dealt with the custody of their children, and was legally intertwined.

“On a personal level, I would say I know him very well and Nate has shown me that he is a good and decent human being,” wrote Kathy Black, the more-than-20-year executive director of La Casa de las Madres, a domestic violence support group in San Francisco.

The organization provides a 24-hour hotline to domestic abuse survivors, domestic abuse prevention education, and long-term support services. The organization’s stated mission is to “stand for a safer San Francisco.”

In her defense of Ballard, Black wrote that “over that [sic] last two decades, Nate has become a trusted friend, strategist, and ally to La Casa,” adding, “While I cannot speak to this case and its very serious allegations, I just do not believe that it is in Nate’s nature to hurt anyone — period.”

Former San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr also wrote in defense of Ballard, saying, “In our many conversations about life, relationships, and family, what couldn’t be any clearer is his love for his kids. He is a devoted father.”

Ballard has previously represented the police officers’ union as a spokesperson, defending Suhr’s police force in the public sphere.

Suhr added, “I will not comment on Nate’s current criminal case in your county as I know nothing more about it other that [sic] what I’ve read in the papers. I can and will say I don’t believe for a minute that it is in Nate to ever hurt anyone; and it is inconceivable to me that he could ever hurt a child.”

“Nate,” Suhr wrote, “is a good man.”

Ballard’s mitigation letters include other movers and shakers:

Martin Halloran, past president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association Former San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell Ramona Prieto, retired California Highway Patrol deputy commissioner Former San Francisco Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier Erin Garvey, senior director of operations communications at PG&E Tom O’Connor, past president of San Francisco Fire Fighters Local 798 Joanna Rees, managing partner at market creation company West and board member of The Representation Project

Reinhardt’s attorney, Amanda Bevins, was a partner in a Danville law firm for 18 years and said she often represented wealthy and well-connected clients. Still, she told KQED, the level of support Ballard garnered from influential people, considering the allegations against him, was “unusual.”

“The letters stink of cronyism and everything that is wrong with the ‘rich white boy’ politics of San Francisco,” Bevins said.

In announcing the verdict against Ballard, Napa County Deputy District Attorney Kecia Lind said it’s common for high-profile abusers to use their prestige in the community to their advantage.

“The abuser uses their prominence to intimidate and further control their victims,” Lind said. “[T]hreatening to use their power to continue the abuse and assassination of character of the victims are features used to deflect personal responsibility and accountability for their wrongdoing. The Napa County District Attorney’s Office amplifies the voices of survivors, and this brave survivor refuses to be cowed by continued bullying or minimization of criminal behavior.”

Ballard told KQED on Tuesday he could have “destroyed” Reinhardt’s credibility if he had not chosen to settle the case.

“If Mara had taken the stand and made these allegations under oath, we would have destroyed her credibility with mountains of documentary evidence and contradictory statements,” Ballard wrote. “But destroying Mara’s credibility would have done little to restore my reputation, so I chose to settle the case and move on.”

Seeing prominent people in power defend her former husband strikes fear in Reinhardt.

“Nate always makes sure that everyone knows that he is highly connected to powerful people: The Governor, The Vice President, various Congressmen and Women, Senators, Mayors, SF Police Chief, District Attorneys, many more people of influence in both the political and private world,” Reinhardt said in her statement. “He was written up as one of the 10 most powerful people in San Francisco. He never let me forget it.”

Notably, in order for Reinhardt to secure an agreement from Ballard to not see their children for six years, she agreed to withdraw a domestic violence restraining order she had filed after the assault, and to take the unusual step of sealing the declaration attached to the order’s petition. Without the information from that declaration being in the public sphere, Ballard has more ability to control the narrative — a tactic Reinhardt says she knows all too well.

The agreement to withdraw the restraining order and seal Reinhardt’s declaration was “totally motivated” by Ballard’s own desire to protect his image, Bevins alleges.

“Long after we leave here today,” Reinhardt said, “I know that Nate will spend his life trying to spin yet another story, to destroy me, the children, and most likely anyone associated with this case.”

In two years, the family law court may consider allowing Ballard to have contact with his two young children again.

Read Mara Reinhardt’s full victim impact statement, which she read aloud in Napa County Superior Court on Aug. 19:

Resources for survivors of domestic violence

Have you been or are you being harmed by domestic violence? Find help via these resources, in the Bay Area and beyond:

Center for Domestic Peace: Call their 24/7 English-Spanish hotline at (415) 924-6616. Shelter requests are handled via this number, as are appointments for legal advocacy services. Cooperative Restraining Order Clinic: CROC provides free legal services to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking survivors: (415) 969-6711. Family Violence Law Center: Call (800) 947-8301 for legal services as well as 24-hour crisis intervention and support. La Casa de las Madres: For support, resources and safety planning, call their 24/7 hotline at (877) 503-1850. You can also contact them via text at (415) 200-3575. The National Domestic Violence Hotline: Call (800) 799-7233, or (800) 799-7233 for TTY, or if you’re unable to speak safely, go online or text LOVEIS to 22522. STAND! For Families Free of Violence, Contra Costa County: STAND’s toll-free crisis line remains active 24 hours a day at (888) 215-5555. WOMAN, Inc. (Women Organized to Make Abuse Nonexistent): Offers 24/7 support line services, remote counseling via Zoom, Google Hangouts and phone calls in English and Spanish at (877) 384-3578.

Copyright 2021 KQED