CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook says since taking office, she’s hit the ground running.
She won the election for sheriff back in August, but was appointed to the position early, after Darryl Daniels was removed from office amid a sex scandal. Though she was just sworn-in this month for her first term, Cook has already been on the job almost 5 months.
In that timeframe, Cook says she’s already made significant changes to the department, including increasing patrols when Clay County residents need them most.
“Probably the biggest change is adding a third shift in the middle of the day. So during our peak call volume, there’s additional deputies out on the streets to serve the community,” she said.
Cook and her transition team consulted with outside experts to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement within the Sheriff’s Office.
“When they came in, I told them everything is an open book,” Cook explained. “Anything you want to see, anybody want to talk to, any questions you want to ask, I need all this information.”
The group spent more than 300 hours evaluating the department, leading Cook to create a new fugitive unit that also monitors sex offenders and predators. She’s also made changes to the domestic violence unit, making deputies available on each shift to focus on these cases.
Cook’s biggest supporter? Her husband Don Tuten -- a 31-year law enforcement veteran who recently retired from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. At home, the couple is raising a family of six children, including some who were adopted.
“I think we’ve done a good job of keeping work at work and home at home and not overwhelming them with what we see and hear every day at our jobs,” Cook said.
It was trial by fire during Cook’s first month on the job.
In September, Cook was in front of the news cameras, speaking about the case of a 13-year-old who was arrested after he allegedly threatened to commit a shooting at Lake Asbury Junior High School.
She was back before the cameras that same month, after one of her deputies -- Sgt. Eric Twisdale -- died of COVID-19. Later that month, she updated the community on a coronavirus outbreak at the Clay County Jail, which was later brought under control.
Cook said the public can expect quick explanations and updates on big cases.
“I’m going to be as transparent with people as I possibly can,” Cook said. “You can’t hide anything these days.”
She says it’s an honor to serve the community that was there for her growing up from the time she and her family moved to Clay County. Her father served in the Navy and she attended Clay High School.
Cook is thankful the community has welcomed her home, she says, with excitement.
“The reaction has been fantastic,” Cook said. “A lot of positive feedback.”
Cook said that there are always naysayers who question whether a person is right for the job. She invites the public to take a look at her credentials, which are posted on the Sheriff’s Office’s website.