Upset in Alachua County: Long-time sheriff voted out

Clovis Watson Jr. defeats Sadie Darnell in sheriff’s race

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell
Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell (WCJB-TV)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – It was an upset in Alachua County, as Florida’s only current female sheriff was ousted in Tuesday’s primary election.

Clovis Watson Jr., currently a state representative, beat Sheriff Sadie Darnell 59% to 41%. Both ran as Democrats. He faces a write-in candidate in November before he can officially take office.

The shakeup comes as many call for change in policing.

Darnell has been sheriff in Alachua County since 2006 —14 years. She intended to keep her job for at least another term.

After declaring victory, Watson said he has a big vision for the position and the community.

“To be that sheriff who everyone will see that sheriff and see sheriff, not color or gender,” he told WCJB-TV. “Just a sheriff who is fair to all people, who everyone is comfortable with.”

Watson gained the support of a lot of local leaders, many whom disagreed with Darnell’s policies over recent years. Watson rose through the ranks at the city of Alachua Police Department, ultimately becoming the assistant chief before running for public office as a state representative.

“I will look at ways to mobilize a transition team,” Watson said. “I will get copies of all the policies at the sheriff’s office, as well as the budget, and look at things that we need to do for the new vision.”

Residents had mixed reactions.

“I thought it was about time to have more black representation in Alachua County,” said Rich Heiss.

“I don’t think Sadie Darnell was compassionate about what her job was,” Antonio Brenson told News4Jax. “I don’t think she really cared about the people in the city.”

It comes at a time when there’s civil unrest with many people wanting a fresh start with their leadership. Video recently surfaced of a 2014 incident with a Gainesville officer roughing up a teenager. It’s the same officer who gained positive viral fame for playing basketball with children while on duty, even garnering Shaquille O’Neal’s attention. The recently surfaced video just made headlines with the New York Times.

“You could see with everything going on, with the police in general, I’m not as shocked that it was changing because everybody’s wanting change now, reform,” said resident Kevin Lambert.

News4Jax tried to reach Darnell and Watson on multiple numbers for comment after the election. Neither responded.

A spokesman for the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office said the sheriff was unavailable for the day and had not released any statements about her defeat.

The Alachua County Democratic Party also could not be reached.

If all goes according to plan, Watson will take over as sheriff in January 2021. A write-in candidate has never won in Alachua County, according to the Gainesville Sun.

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