More than a year before the next election in Clay County, Sheriff Darryl Daniels has drawn his first challenger. Harold Rutledge officially announced his candidacy for sheriff Monday morning. Rutledge is a former Clay County deputy and county commissioner who ran unsuccessfully for sheriff three years ago.
As he filed paperwork at the supervisor of election's office, Rutledge questioned whether Daniels would run for a second term because of the public scandal that broke last month over his long-term affair with Jacksonville Sheriff's Office corrections employee Cierra Smith. Smith served under Daniels while he was a supervisor of the jail for JSO.
Daniels also asked a Clay County deputy to arrest Smith for stalking him on May 6. Those charges were never filed.
“I can’t imagine a scenario where he’s going to run for reelection," Rutledge said. "He hasn’t filed yet. I think he’s going to be a lame duck sheriff for 18 months and be remembered as our adultery sheriff."
Daniels responded to Rutledge's announcement with a statement of his own.
"I will definitely be running for a second term as Clay County sheriff, though my formal announcement and rededication to department employees and the citizens of Clay County will come in the near future as I greatly look forward to finishing what I've started.
"As an agency, we have laid great ground work and are preparing to turn the corner on some innovative advancements and huge benefits for our county."
Rutledge also criticized Daniels’ performance as sheriff, saying the violent crime was up 6% last year, citing statistics from the Flordia Department of Law Enforcement.
FDLE's most recent Uniform Crime Data reports show Clay County's crime index was up 5% in the first half of 2018 over the previous year, but that there was one less murder, nine fewer rapes and 32 fewer aggravated assaults. But robbery, motor vehicle thefts, larceny and burglaries were all up in the 2018 report.
Rutledge also noted that FDLE found 67% of crimes reported in 2018 went unsolved.
Rutledge also said the issue of Daniels' affair is a big political liability.
“The recent issues the sheriff’s been facing I think speaks of his moral compass," Rutledge said. "And I think the public’s going to look at that August 25th of next year and make a decision if it’s important to them."
Both men are Republicans, so they will face each other in the primary.
Rutledge came in fourth in the four-way Republican primary in 2016, but there was no Democratic challenger so Daniels was elected with 35% of the vote.
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Ken Jefferson said he believes this will be a contentious race. Multiple sources told News4Jax that more candidates will likely enter the race.