Wife of Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels files for divorce

High-profile cheating scandal thrust Daniels' marriage into spotlight

By Scott Johnson - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Two months after Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels publicly apologized for the “embarrassment” caused by a cheating scandal, his wife filed for divorce.

Denise Daniels filed the papers Friday in Duval County, noting that the marriage was "irretrievably broken" and that she wants to drop Daniels' last name, according to court records.

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 after Daniels accused his ex-lover of stalking.

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.

Daniels is now under a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation, although the agency has declined to say specifically what it is investigating.

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.

Denise Daniels has not publicly commented about her husband's affair, but stood by his side during an interview with News4Jax at the airport in mid-May.

At the time, Darryl Daniels said he wanted to keep his family's “personal matters” from becoming a “public spectacle,” but he also issued a public apology for the embarrassment his behavior had 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. "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."

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. Investigators determined there was 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 recommended termination for Smith. She dropped a request for an appeal of that recommendation and she has since resigned.

“(She) thought that it was best. It was her choice," Smith's attorney, Latoya Williams-Shelton, told News4Jax.

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.

It's unclear how this change in his personal life will affect Daniels' decision to run for re-election. News4Jax political analyst Rick Mullaney weighed in on that decision in light of Daniels' wife filing for divorce.

"It’s not so much the filing of divorce and personal difficulties, I think the public has become more understanding of that. It’s the judgment of the affair he had -- a very public one," said Mullaney, who runs the Public Policy Institute at Jacksonville University.

WATCH: Political analyst weighs in on Clay County sheriff's decision to run for 2nd term

So far, Daniels has one opponent, Harold Rutledge, who has filed to run against him. But the question remains of whether more candidates will jump into the race, feeling that the incumbent known for his cowboy hat and three big gulps of coffee is vulnerable.

"I think his opponents are clearly going to make use of this information," Mullaney said. "He’s got an opponent. There will be more opponents coming and they will clearly contrast him with themselves."

The sheriff is also in the middle of a major budget pitch to hire more deputies in the county.

Denise Daniels declined to speak with News4Jax. We also contacted Sheriff Daniels for comment, but we are waiting for a response.

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