Former Clay sheriff facing charges pressured staff for campaign contributions, FDLE says

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – Court documents filed last week revealed that embattled former Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels had senior staff solicit hefty campaign donations from members of the Sheriff’s Office as he ran for reelection last year.

The details about the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation were filed by the State Attorney’s Office on Jan. 6 and provide a clearer picture as to what happened in the wake of a public sex scandal involving the controversial former sheriff.

Daniels, 55, has been charged with three misdemeanor counts of false statements to law enforcement and a felony count of evidence tampering, according to the latest charging documents. He has pleaded not guilty.

The charges stem from an investigation into Daniels’ relationship with Cierra Smith, his long-time mistress and a former corrections officer who was a subordinate of Daniels while he was chief of the Duval County jail. Daniels accused Smith of stalking him in May 2019 and authorities say he tried unsuccessfully to have her arrested.

After the scandal became public and he was charged by FDLE, Daniels accused senior staff of being behind the charges he was facing and said he would not resign, and would run for reelection in 2020 and win.

He also asked a Sheriff’s Office chief to help him fundraise within the department, according to the documents.

“I know you want to be sheriff one day; you’ve talked about it. I want to give you a little taste of kind of what it’s like,” Daniels said to the chief sometime during the campaign, according to the investigation. “So, I need you to reach out to all of the staff: $5000 per director, $2000 for chiefs, etc. Look, I’m not saying all their money. I want their boots or toes in the water.”

He also let senior staff know that if he won there would be a reorganization, and that “some people may not want to stick around because they were not going to like where they were going to be put.”

Before the scandal broke, the new documents show that after Smith told Daniels their four-year-long affair was going to be exposed by an internal investigation by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Daniels then told Smith “I’m not leaving your side,” and said he would help her with her JSO case, documents show.

That was April 30, 2019.

A few days later, on May 6, Daniels told his wife about the affair and promised that it was over, documents show. Daniels’s wife was infuriated and demanded the phone number for Smith’s husband. Daniels’s wife said if he wouldn’t give her the number, she would drive to Smith’s house. Daniels then warned Smith his wife was coming, told her what car she was driving, and said she “should protect herself by any means necessary,” according to the investigation. Daniels’s wife would later file for divorce.

May 6 was also the same day that Daniels tried to have Smith arrested for stalking him. She was taken to the sheriff’s office but released when senior staff refused to put her in jail.

“It was a wrongful arrest. It was an abuse of power for [Daniels’] own personal gains,” Smith’s attorney told News4Jax. “[Smith] was arrested in front of her 8-year-old daughter. Her daughter was in the vehicle with her, she was pregnant at the time. She sat in the back of a vehicle handcuffed for several hours.”

The documents list virtually every senior staff member of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office as witnesses — more than 40 in total — including former undersheriff Ray Walden, whom Daniels told about the affair.

Daniels admitted to FDLE he was giving Smith money but said it was his own, not from CCSO accounts.

A day after Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels surrendered to law enforcement to face criminal charges stemming from a sex scandal investigation, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order to suspend the embattled sheriff.

In order to give her a head start leading the agency, DeSantis in August appointed former Atlantic Beach Police Chief Michelle Cook as the next Clay County Sheriff. Cook won the Republican primary in August and was not going to face any challengers in the general election in November.

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