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Letter asks governor to remove Sheriff Daniels; FDLE ups its investigation

Anonymous writer claims Clay County sheriff threatened anyone leaking info

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Wednesday its review of Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels has become a formal investigation. FDLE would not say specifically what it is investigating, but it comes the same day an anonymous letter addressed to Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, the FDLE and the media surfaced asked that Daniels be replaced.

The letter appears to have been written by a member of Daniels' department, references statements the sheriff made while briefing patrol officers June 14 and alleges that Daniels threatened whoever was leaking information about him on social media.

"We are concerned not only about the reputation of the Sheriff's Office, but also our safety," the person wrote.

The Sheriff's Office said it was aware of the letter, but does not comment on anonymous information.

The governor's office didn't respond to questions Wednesday but at a sendoff for Florida Air National Guard troops in Jacksonville on Thursday said he has not reviewed the request.

"I have not been briefed on anything beyond the initial statement that went out probably a week or a month ago," DeSantis said. "Ideally, I would like to get, like, a formal report or something because there has been an investigation. I have more confidence in that that just something that may have been anonymous."

Moody's office confirmed Thursday had received it the letter.

"FDLE is tasked with a full and comprehensive investigation as it relates to these allegations and until that investigation has concluded, our office will refrain from comment," Moody's spokeswoman, Kylie Mason, responded.

This comes more than a month after Daniels' long-running affair with Cierra Smith, a woman he supervised when he was chief of the jail for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, became widely known.

In early May, 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 a State Attorney's Office document.

Smith told News4Jax her relationship with Daniels began in 2013 when she was a 21-year-old corrections officer at JSO and he was 48 years old and in charge of running the Duval County jail.

Prior to his 2016 election as sheriff of Clay County, Darryl Daniels worked for more than a decade at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, working his way up to chief of the jail.

Smith said her relationship with Daniels continued into this year, though it has since soured.

"We are concerned about our safety due to the past dishonesty, illegal actions and now his current threats and state of mind," the anonymous letter says. "In short, he is losing touch with reality and appears violent."

The letter ends by saying it is being written at the request of several members of the agency, but anonymously due to fear of retaliation by the sheriff and undersheriff, adding "PLEASE HELP US!"

A few days after the stalking accusation and extramarital affair came to light, Daniels issued a public apology for the embarrassment his behavior has caused.

"I want to take the time to acknowledge a series of personal incidents. I have, in the past, made decisions in my personal life that I truly regret. I sincerely apologize for the embarrassment my past personal decisions have caused," Daniels said Friday. "My family has asked that I not discuss private matters in public, so I will not be commenting further on the personal aspects of this issue."

An FDLE spokesperson said the state was initially provided information by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and has since received additional information.

News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said the FDLE will be looking for specific things.

"They’re looking for any type of criminal activity, corruption, any type of coercion or collusion," Jefferson said. "The fact that the FDLE is investigating this doesn’t mean it’s doom for the sheriff. They want the facts. They want to be able to lay out everything and look at everything and then put their recommendations together and send it to the governor."

A JSO internal affairs investigation into Smith began in July 2018 after her estranged husband told JSO about her affair with her former boss at the jail. Daniels declined to be interviewed by JSO detectives. 

Investigators determined support for charges against Smith, including trespassing, departure from the truth, failure to be candid, failure to conform with work standards and unbecoming conduct. Some charges were not sustained, including one of having sex in Daniels’ office.

Sheriff Mike Williams has recommended termination for Smith. She has dropped a request for an appeal of that recommendation but the city's Civil Service Board is scheduled to decide next month if she can be fired.

Smith, who married another man while having an affair with Daniels, said the relationship only became a problem when her husband reported it to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. She said that disclosure led to her being jettisoned to desk duty last September. But Smith maintains that she and Daniels were never intimate while on duty.

Scrutiny ramps up on social media

Since news broke last month of Daniels' affair with Smith, it has been a contact focus of debate on social media in Clay County.

Daniels previously told News4Jax that he intends to run for reelection and wants to continue his job as sheriff, but one thing that could make that tough for him is a steady stream of debate about the affair and criticisms being leveled online.

WATCH: Scrutiny ramps up on social media

A post made less than a month ago in the News 4 Clay County Facebook group on whether he should stay sheriff has gotten about 700 comments, with new ones coming every day.

That group isn't where the debate ends. There are other social media pages that have popped up specifically focusing on Daniels. On Twitter, it’s Clay Watch. On Facebook, it’s Saving Clay County Sheriff’s Office. Both are critical of Daniels. When News4Jax asked both if they could reveal who’s running these pages, both pages replied, "no."

In fact, the Saving Clay County Sheriff’s Office page wrote ambiguously, “Nope. Plant of rumors of who but we are many."

News4Jax political analyst Rick Mullaney said social media pages are becoming increasingly common in local political discussions.

"You start seeing regular citizens or when they have a cause, then social media is the natural place that they turn," Mullaney said. "Whether it’s Facebook, it could be Twitter, Instagram, a blog, podcast -- whatever it may be, more and more turn to social media."

Daniels could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening. 


About the Authors:

Steve Patrick

Created WJXT.com in 1995 and been running The Local Station's website ever since.

Brittany Muller

Multi-media journalist with a special interest in Georgia issues.