CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – After opening statements and testimony from the first few witnesses Tuesday, it’s clear credibility will be an ongoing theme in the trial of former Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels.
Among those witnesses was Cierra Smith, the woman with whom Daniels had a lengthy affair that started while Smith was a corrections officer at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and Daniels was the JSO director of the jail -- her superior.
Daniels was arrested in August 2020 after an investigation into the affair between Daniels and Smith.
Daniels is charged with tampering with evidence, attempted destruction of evidence and five counts of lying to law enforcement. The tampering with evidence charge relates to deleting a Google account and cellphone data while knowing he was under investigation, according to court documents. The alleged offenses took place between May 6, 2019, and June 4, 2019.
The trial centers around a meeting between Daniels and Smith on May 6, 2019.
Smith said it was a planned meeting. Daniels said it was stalking because he had ended their relationship on April 28, 2019, after an on-again, off-again six-year intimate relationship.
Smith said she and Daniels agreed to the steps of what would happen when Daniels told his wife about the affair but said he never ended their intimate relationship.
The defense fired back in cross-examination that Smith knew the intimate relationship with Daniels ended on April 28, although she claimed she saw Daniels again on April 30.
The defense attorney said Smith had texted Daniels: “I have been crying since you left.”
Smith responded: “It was probably about getting fired from JSO.”
Defense attorney: “He clearly told you he was ending the relationship with you?”
Smith: “I only understood he was going to tell his wife.”
The defense also challenged Smith’s memory of meeting Daniels on April 30, asking her if she was talking about the meeting on the 28th.
Defense attorney: “During this meeting on April 30, what was he wearing?”
Smith said during the meet-up on May 6, she thought Daniels kept driving to find two parking spots for them, until Daniels’ wife showed up
Smith explained that the day she and Daniels agreed to meet, Smith saw a truck follow her, block her in and Daniels appeared to pull a walkie-talkie out. Smith said Daniels’ wife blocked her vehicle from leaving.
Clay County Deputy Chris Ruby testified that Daniels, who was sheriff at the time, was heard calling in a suspicious vehicle on the police radio -- Smith’s vehicle.
“I told the sheriff we have options. I can talk to Cierra and tell her to stay away from you, and I can make an arrest for stalking,” Ruby said during testimony Tuesday. “He said he wanted her arrested.”
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Smith testified Tuesday that she heard Daniels tell the deputies to arrest her.
“I heard the defendant (Daniels) say ‘Go ahead and make the arrest,’” Smith said on the stand.
Smith said she was not following Daniels because they had a planned meeting.
Investigators say Daniels’ order was illegal and that he lied to them about the actions he took when his affair with Smith became public and that he ad his phone scrubbed of incriminating communications.
The court also heard from Joseph Glenn, who was a deputy at the time when Daniels requested assistance on May 6. The state also called Joseph Prato, a forensic investigator who testified that he was given a phone from which to extract data and search for the name “Cierra Smith” — a name he said he could not find.
Former Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, who’s known Daniels throughout his career, was also questioned about May 6 and whether he had missed calls from the then-Clay County sheriff, to which he responded in the affirmative.
Attorney: “Did you ultimately return those phone calls to the defendant?”
Williams: “I did. About an hour later, approximately.”
Williams was questioned about the call and the substance of the conversation.
Williams: “So he initially said, ‘Hey, that girl that works for you has been following me around. She’s out here now.’ So, I didn’t know who he was referring to at the time. I finally figured that piece out and realized there was some kind of incident involving him and her, his wife was present, and I remember asking him, ‘Where are you at? Do you have anybody there with you?’ He said, yeah, his people were here and he was good. His main question was, ‘Hey, she’s going to go to jail. I don’t think it would look good putting her in my jail. Can we put her in the Duval County jail?’”
Attorney: “And when he made that request of you, were you able to meet his request?”
Williams: “No. I told him, basically if she broke the law in Clay County she needs to go to jail in Clay County.”
Opening statements Tuesday told two very different stories.
The state said Daniels knowingly broke the law and tried to cover everything up, but the defense said the investigation was a “witch hunt,” and said that when investigators didn’t find what they were looking for they made up criminal charges.
Daniels acknowledged in court earlier this month that if convicted of the felonies, he could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
The jury was selected Monday from a pool of 200 Clay County residents. The six jurors are made up of four women and two men. One man and one woman were picked as the two alternates.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson recused her office because of a conflict of interest, so the Fifth Circuit State Attorney’s Office from Ocala is handling the case after being appointed as an independent prosecutor by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The trial will be held in Clay County but will be presided over by St. Johns County Judge R. Lee Smith, as all Clay County judges also recused themselves from the case.
Sources told News4JAX that Daniels rejected a plea offer, but during the final pre-trial hearing Sept. 1, the prosecutor said there was no offer from the state, which means whatever plea negotiations were taking place didn’t go anywhere.
Court will begin at 8:45 a.m. every day and end at 5 p.m., and the trial could end by Friday.