JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It reads like a steamy work of fiction, but it’s real life: A married sheriff involved in a years-long affair then accused of ordering one of his deputies to illegally arrest his former mistress.
That all-too-real drama came to a head Thursday night when Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels turned himself in on four criminal charges including tampering with evidence, which is a felony, and three misdemeanor counts of knowingly giving false information to law enforcement.
“Within days of a primary election, the powers that be, specifically the State Attorney’s Office has decided that today is the day that they will execute their plan and interfere with what’s going on with the sheriff. With me,” Daniels said in a YouTube video released after he was booked into jail then released.
More than 15% of the registered Clay County voters had cast mail-in or early ballots in the primary by Thursday afternoon when the charges against Daniels were announced. Some voters said they are not surprised by what is happening with the sheriff race and his arrest. Many don’t believe it was a coincidence that it happened so close to election day.
“This stuff has been going on in the past And they bring it up right now. I mean it’s all political,” voter James Pope said.
University of North Florida political science professor Michael Binder said it highly unusual for a sitting sheriff to be charged with a crime and the fact that it is so close to an election does raise questions, but he doubts that the timing of his arrest was politically motivated.
“That being said any charges filed in the case that this high profile. Those things have to be at least mentioned and discussed or considered to some extent,” Binder said. “I don’t necessarily believe this was done strictly for political motives. That being said, it’s probably better that this happened prior to the election. Then, if somehow he would win an election and (it came out) a week later, that makes it more complicated.”
The special prosecutor appointed by DeSantis to handle the case, Brad King of Marion County, said Daniels was offered a deferred prosecution agreement routinely offered to first-time offenders that would have avoided a trial and potentially let the sheriff to keep his pension if he would resign, withdraw his bid for reelection, forfeit his law enforcement certificate and never run for sheriff in Florida again.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson who originally investigated this case and then requested the special prosecutor said she couldn’t talk about the investigation We asked her about the timing of Daniels’ arrest and have not received a response.
Daniels refused the deal, “knowing that I’m innocent,” and willing to fight the charges.
Curtis Fallgatter, a former federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for 17 years and now a well-respected criminal defense lawyer, said Gov. Ron DeSantis could remove Daniels from office at any time.
“The governor has plenty of authority to remove public officials, as we’ve seen,” Fallgatter said. “He’s (DeSantis) done that up here in Duval County. He’s removed City Council members -- two of them. He has removed sheriffs around the state. If you are Brad King, (the special prosecutor) appointed by the governor, why aren’t you having that conversation with the governor? If you think he should be removed… go ahead and do it. Don’t threaten it in the context of a criminal prosecution, said Fallgatter. “Let the governor exercise his constitutional right to remove a sheriff if the evidence is that strong. Don’t just threaten it.”
“Again, those should be separate actions. Make your prosecutorial decisions; make your decisions as a governor -- but mingling the two in the middle of an election is a rather unusual combination,” Falgatter said.
Watch Bruce Hamilton’s full interview with Curtis Fallgatter on The Morning Show
Fallgatter questioned the timing of making the arrest while voting was going on.
“The FDLE report, I think was tendered up here in Duval County back in June or July,” Falgatter said. “So, why five days before the election? You know this has five components. He might win; he might lose. If you want to threaten a man to lose his job, you can do it now, you can do it five days from now. And of course, if he loses the election, they don’t need to make that threat. So it is pretty peculiar to issue an ultimatum in the middle of an election process where a lot of people have already voted.”
Daniels said Thursday night he intends to stay in the race. If he wins, he can continue in the position until he is convicted of a felony or removed by DeSantis.
Other Clay County voters News4Jax spoke with Friday said it won’t affect their vote.
“I wasn’t going to vote for him anyway,” Erica Jenkins said.