JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The special prosecutor handling the criminal case against Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels pushed back Friday against the suggestion that he gave Daniels a choice to either resign and cancel his reelection bid or be arrested, saying there is no truth to that claim.
“It has been brought to my attention that in a Facebook video Clay County Sheriff Daniels has indicated that he was presented an ultimatum to either resign his office and withdraw from the election or be arrested,” Fifth Circuit State Attorney Brad King said in part. “That is not true.”
Instead, King said, his office presented Daniels’ attorney with a deferred prosecution agreement that would take effect following his arrest. It’s the kind of settlement routinely offered to first-time offenders that would have avoided trial and potentially let the sheriff to keep his pension — an option that would not be on the table if he were convicted.
Daniels was arrested Thursday on a felony count of evidence tampering and three misdemeanor counts of knowingly giving false information to law enforcement. The felony charge carries a maximum five-year prison sentence while the misdemeanor charges carry one-year sentences.
Hours after his arrest, the sheriff released a video statement on his agency’s Facebook and YouTube pages in which he maintained his innocence and questioned the timing of his arrest — five days out from a primary. He also raised the specter of an underlying motive fueling the case against him.
“The question that I want you to ask yourself, and I don’t have the answer to it, is this: Why today?” Daniels said during the seven-minute video clip. “Why couldn’t it wait? Unless there was some ulterior motive behind the decisions to impact a political race.”
His attorney said Daniels has no plans to step down and will continue to seek reelection.
King, who was appointed because State Attorney Melissa Nelson recused herself over a conflict of interest, took issue with that implication. He said politics have nothing to do with how he handles his work.
“I do not know Sheriff Daniels, his politics, his opponents, nor for that matter any citizen in Clay County. When I am asked to prosecute a case, I do it based on the facts and the law and nothing else,” King said.
DOCUMENTS: View the prosecution agreement or see an embedded copy below
Under the terms of the agreement, Daniels would have been required to resign, withdraw his reelection bid, forfeit his law enforcement certificate and never run for sheriff in Florida again. It also would have meant that he agreed to pay court costs and waived his rights to a speedy trial and the statute of limitations.
As part of that deal, the prosecutor would have agreed not to pursue the criminal case against Daniels.
Defense attorney Mitch Stone, a former prosecutor who has no ties to the case, said in his experience deals like that are typically only presented to defendants when the state has a strong case.
“You have to have sufficient proof and you better be able to go forward on the case because if you don’t, then your ethical obligation is to drop the case entirely,” Stone told News4Jax. “So that doesn’t mean that they have truth beyond reasonable doubt to convict, but it just means they have sufficient proof to go forward.”
Daniels is accused of lying to investigators about stalking allegations he made against Cierra Smith, a former subordinate of his with whom he had an extramarital affair while he was in charge of the Duval County jail and she was a corrections officer there. He’s also accused of either destroying or concealing cellphone data.
Based on his understanding of the case, Stone said it’s likely that the reason King offered a deferred prosecution agreement was to remove the policing power that the sheriff is accused of abusing.
“From what it sounded like in this case, the prosecutor...said, ‘These are my objectives if I were to prosecute this particular law enforcement officer: I want him to lose his credentials, I want him to resign and not run for sheriff and not be a police officer for a time, so I’m gonna make that offer to him if he wants to accept it.‘”