State attorney seeks independent prosecutor for investigation into Clay County sheriff

Melissa Nelson recuses herself and asks Gov. DeSantis to name another prosecutor

VIDEO: State Attorney Melissa Nelson is recusing herself from the investigation into Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels, who’s been under scrutiny from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for more than a year.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – State Attorney Melissa Nelson is recusing herself from the investigation into Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels, who’s been under scrutiny from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for more than a year.

Nelson, whose office oversees criminal prosecutions in Clay, Duval and Nassau counties, has sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis asking for him to appoint an independent prosecutor to preside over Daniels’ case.

Daniels is accused of ordering one of his deputies to illegally arrest his former mistress and subordinate for stalking in 2019.

In a copy of the letter obtained by the News4Jax I-TEAM on Thursday, Nelson said it would be a “conflict of interest” for her office to handle the case.

Nelson said her office received summary reports from FDLE on Wednesday after its investigation was completed.

“In reviewing these reports, it has now become clear that if a formal prosecution were to be instituted against Sheriff Daniels, that assistant state attorneys currently employed by this office would be required to not only be listed as state witnesses, but ultimately could be called as witnesses at trial,” the letter states. “While it has always been my intent for this office to fulfill our legal obligation to pursue a criminal prosecution if warranted, it is now clear that a conflict of interest would exist if this Office were to institute a prosecution wherein assistant state attorneys currently working in this office, were also called as state witnesses at trial.”

Although FDLE’s investigation has concluded, Nelson wrote, no decision has been made whether the evidence warrants an arrest and/or criminal prosecution.

“However, because this investigation involves a matter of great public importance, there is urgency for the reassignment to another judicial circuit,” she concludes in the letter.

A Clay County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson told News4Jax Thursday afternoon that Daniels has no comment at this time. Last year, Daniels said the investigation would not impact his ability to lead the agency.

“I’m still committed to the job that we do in Clay County,” the sheriff said at the time.

Daniels has been the subject of a state investigation into allegations of official misconduct since last year. What began as a preliminary review in May 2019 became a formal investigation a month later.

At the time, an FDLE spokesperson acknowledged the state was initially provided information by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Daniels’ former employer, and had since received additional information.

In June 2019, an anonymous letter calling for Daniels’ ouster was sent to Gov. DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, FDLE and various news organizations. The letter appears to have been written by one of Daniels’ employees, though the identity of the sender is unclear.

Among other things, the letter referenced statements Daniels made while briefing deputies on June 14 and alleges that Daniels threatened whoever was leaking information about him on social media.

It was received about one month after news of an extramarital affair between Daniels and a former subordinate at the Duval County jail, where both worked at the time, became public knowledge.

That subordinate, Cierra Smith, told News4Jax her relationship began in 2013 when she was a 21-year-old corrections officer working for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and Daniels, then 48, oversaw the jail.

In May 2019, Daniels filed a report accusing Smith of having a gun in her car and following him in a “manner that caused him great concern.” His deputies resisted an order from Daniels to arrest Smith, citing a lack of probable cause, according to court documents.

Daniels faces five challengers as he seeks reelection this fall.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.