Special prosecutor appointed to Clay County sheriff investigation

Melissa Nelson recused herself and asked Gov. DeSantis to name another prosecutor

Sheriff Darryl Daniels
Sheriff Darryl Daniels

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed a Central Florida state attorney as a special prosecutor to take over the investigation of Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels.

Daniels been under scrutiny from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for more than a year after he was accused of ordering one of his deputies to illegally arrest his former mistress for stalking in 2019. She began a relationship with Daniels when she worked for him when they were both at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the affair continued after he was elected sheriff.

After State Attorney Melissa Nelson receive a summary report of the FDLE investigation earlier this month, she recused herself from the case since she works with Daniels as part of the 4th Judicial Circuit.

“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,” Nelson wrote in a letter to DeSantis. “Because this investigation involves a matter of great public importance, there is urgency for the reassignment to another judicial circuit.”

News4Jax learned Friday that 5th Judicial Circuit Brad King has been appointed special prosecutor in the case.

It’s uncertain how long King’s office will take to decide if criminal charges are warranted, but it’s expected that won’t be completed until after the Aug. 18 primary in which Daniels is running for re-election. Daniels has drawn five opponents.

A Clay County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson told News4Jax earlier in the month 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 that 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 when he was a supervisor 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.

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