Sheriff Mike Williams’ 31 years with JSO ends Friday with retirement amid controversy

Williams announced retirement after 7 years as sheriff as city lawyers considered issue of his move to another county

Sheriff Mike Williams announces retirement (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mike Williams will end more than three decades with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office with his retirement Friday -- a year before the end of his second term as the city’s sheriff.

The abrupt departure was sparked when it came to light that Williams, 54, and his wife sold their Jacksonville home a year ago, listing a new address in Nassau County on the deed selling their home.

According to the city’s charter: “If the sheriff should die, resign, or remove his residence from Duval County during his term of office, or be removed from office, the office of sheriff shall become vacant.”

When questioned about the issue, Williams cited state law, which does not require a sheriff to live in a county where they serve, saying that would overrule the city charter in this case.

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But the city’s lawyer, who was asked to look into the matter by City Council, disagreed with that, according to a draft opinion obtained by News4JAX.

The draft opinion, which was never issued and is therefore not legally binding, said Williams vacated his office when he moved out of Duval County.

The day the general counsel’s opinion was slated to be issued, Williams withdrew the question from consideration by announcing his retirement.

“After some consideration, I have decided that a court battle over my residency would not be good for our community,” Williams wrote in a letter announcing his decision. “I’m proud of my 31 years of service to this City and am excited about a new chapter and new challenges.”

In a statement, Mayor Lenny Curry praised Williams’ work as sheriff and said he looks forward to working with the next sheriff, whoever that may be.

“I have worked closely with Sheriff Williams for the last seven years through many crucial situations including mass shootings, hurricanes, violent crime initiatives, investing in our children, and much more. Mike is always engaged and he’s always involved. He’s given three decades of exceptional service to the people of Jacksonville. I wish him well in retirement and I look forward to working with our next sheriff to continue addressing many of Jacksonville’s most important concerns,” Curry wrote in a statement to News4JAX.

JSO also shared a tweet thanking Sheriff Williams for his service to this Jacksonville community.

The tweet included a link to a three-minute-long video filled with pictures and highlights of Williams’ many achievements as Sheriff.

“Your unwavering commitment to serving the Jacksonville community will live on through the many programs established during your time as Sheriff of Duval County,” JSO said.

On Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Undersheriff Pat Ivey to be interim sheriff, beginning Saturday. He will serve until the special election on Aug. 23.

Today will be Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams' last day on the job after 7 years in office. Now, the man who is leading JSO until August's special election is asking for a bigger piece of the city's budget.

The candidate elected during the special election will serve out the remainder of Williams’ term, and the city will then elect its next full-term sheriff during the spring 2023 general election. Right now, six candidates are running in that race.

The Fraternal Order of Police said in a statement: “Sheriff Williams has maintained the trust and respect of our members during his time in office. His career of service to our community spanned over 30 years and was exemplary.”

Northside Coalition President Ben Frazier, a local civil rights activist, said Williams had “good intentions” during his terms, but not everyone was pleased with his performance.

“This sheriff has been absent, missing and unaccounted for the past year and a half,” Frazier continued. “I think that in that one regard, his resignation, he is leading by example. Because we need somebody who can run this city the way it should be with regards to public safety.”

In his own words

Williams’ career as sheriff started with a close race in 2015. Williams won against six other candidates and took his oath in July of that year.

In 2017, the sheriff told News4JAX the department could begin using body cameras. Later that same year, in August 2017, the sheriff called for 100 new officers. “We’re looking at many different types of training, diversity training, implicit biased training,” Williams said.

In August 2018, there was a mass shooting at The Jacksonville Landing. Three people died and nine people were hurt.

In September of that year, the sheriff told News4JAX he was just as concerned about violent crime as any other Jacksonville citizen, “Clearly we’ve got issues.”

In 2019, JSO anticipated around 200 body cameras in the first quarter of the year.

Then in 2020, the murders of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery led to a social justice movement around the world and in Jacksonville.

It sparked calls for transparency by JSO to release the body camera footage in the local police shootings of Kwame Jones, Jamee Johnson, and Reginald Boston.

Most of the protests were peaceful. Later that year, we heard calls for a citizen review board and the city’s Safer Together Committee -- that would later end.

About the Author:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.