CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – The jury in the trial of former Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels heard more testimony Wednesday detailing his relationship with his now-former mistress through explicit text messages that were read aloud in court.
Daniels is accused of lying to investigators and destroying evidence to cover up the long-term affair he had with Cierra Smith, who was a corrections officer at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office while he was director of the Duval County jail -- her superior.
Prosecutors worked Wednesday to show that despite Daniels’ claims that he had ended his relationship with Smith before a meeting between them on May 6, 2019 -- the relationship was actually still ongoing, as Smith has asserted.
One of their witnesses, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Investigator Keith Riddick, read text messages between Smith and Daniels -- many of them explicit -- that prosecutors said proved their position.
Prosecutor: “Did you see any communications from Darryl Daniels to Cierra Smith indicating he was ending the relationship?”
On the stand, among the hundreds of text messages that Riddick detailed was one between Daniels’ now-former wife and now-former mistress when Daniels’ then-wife took his phone as the story was about to go public.
Riddick: “‘Northside **** of the day. Don’t call this number again. Period. This is my phone now. Period. He don’t want your crazy ***. Period. By boo. Period.’ Miss Smith responded, ‘You just worry about standing by your husband’s side when News4JAX airs this story. Period. Good night, grandma.’ And there’s an image of Mr. Daniels and Miss Smith attached to the text.”
Then a recording of Daniels’ interview with FDLE was played for the jury. Daniels describes the incident where Smith was following him that led to him accusing his ex-mistress of stalking.
“A million things are going through my head. And I’m like how is this ending? I start thinking Clay County sheriff has to kill a young female in her vehicle (inaudible). It’s not a good look for myself or the county. Clay County sheriff is killed by a (inaudible). It’s not a good look either,” he can be heard saying.
In the audio, the FDLE also pressed Daniels on the tens of thousands of dollars he gave to Smith over the years, including one payment of around $4,300 for plastic surgery, and he said he was able to get away with it because he managed the family’s finances and they had extra money.
“You say you give person, give them a little bit of rope, they’ll turn themselves into a cowboy, and that’s just what I did,” Daniels can be heard saying.
Much of the morning testimony centered around an order Daniels gave to Dominic Antoniello, an IT worker within the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, to wipe an old cellphone he had. The IT worker testified he suspected it was to remove information concerning his affair.
Prosecutor: “Isn’t it true that he made that inquiry in conjunction in concern for his wife?”
Antoniello: “My assumption is some sort of communication on the device with the girlfriend that he didn’t want the wife to find out or other people to find out, embarrassing in some way.”
Shortly thereafter, that IT worker’s supervisor at the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, Chief Wayne McKinney, was brought to the stand. He said he was uncomfortable with that order and had the phone placed in a safe in case it became evidence in the investigation.
Prosecutor: “When you learned that the defendant had given Dominic Antoniello his agency cellphone and knowing the procedure would be to wipe it, did that concern you?’
McKinney: “Yes, it did. Most of my experience at the Sheriff’s Office had been as a detective or supervisor in the detective division, so the news stories that I had seen in the incident from May 6, I had seen some interviews with Ms. Smith saying that maybe she was set up. ... I’m sorry, I had seen some interviews that led me to believe, hey, the phone would be a piece of evidence in that case, so it did concern me that was getting turned back in.”
Court will begin at 8:45 a.m. every day and end at 5 p.m., and the trial could end by Friday.
Opening statements made, testimony begins in trial
Smith testified for about two hours Tuesday with attorneys asking about the meeting between her and Daniels on May 6, 2019.
She said the meeting was planned in advance, but Daniels says she was stalking him because he had ended their six-year relationship a week earlier.
Daniels’ wife was also at the meeting.
“So at that time I noticed she was going to block me in, I did make contact with Darryl, and I saw him hold up his radio in the window. and I got scared,” Smith said on the stand. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
Clay County Deputy Chris Ruby also testified that Daniels 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.”
Mike Williams, who was sheriff of Jacksonville at the time of the affair, remained in contact with Daniels after he became Clay County’s sheriff.
When he took the stand on Tuesday, Williams was asked about a conversation he had with Daniels about Smith.
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 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.
He 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.