In his first media interview since being acquitted of all charges filed against him including evidence tampering and making false statements to law enforcement, Darryl Daniels told NewsBreak he is “ready to be Clay County’s sheriff again.”
Daniels says that if elected as sheriff again he will support the Clay County Sheriff’s Office reclaiming jurisdiction over the Clay County school district and that the sheriff’s office deputies deserve to unionize.
Sheriff Michelle Cook has filed for reelection. Currently, the only other candidate is Keystone Heights resident Matthew O’Berry.
Daniels was on trial in Sept. 2022, for tampering with evidence and lying to law enforcement after his ex-mistress, Cierra Smith, was arrested for stalking him and trespassing on school property. The state argued Daniels had Smith arrested and deleted evidence of his affair from his agency phone.
Daniel’s lawyers argued that his extracurricular activities, though not moral, were not illegal and did not require legal consequences. After approximately two hours and 30 minutes of deliberation, the jury decided Daniels was not guilty.
Now, Daniel’s is talking in-depth for the first time since that Thursday in the Clay County Courthouse when all charges against him were dropped.
“Put yourself in the mindset of Clay County residents and the fact that they have not heard from me basically since I was sheriff,” Daniels said. “They are going to want to hear my side of things and I owe it to them at least to bring them up to speed on that and my version of how things played out.”
Daniels said that back on May 6, 2019, when rumors began to spread, he was a board member for several boards in the county—the Police and Fire Credit Union, Orange Park Medical Center Board of Trustees, Clay County 4H-club and others.
Somebody reported to him that he got kicked off those boards, but he said he could see what was “coming down the pipe,” because of the marital affair he was having.
“I resigned from my positions to mitigate any issues with these boards,” he said.
That same day, he was leaving a board meeting when he saw Smith’s Jeep (he had ended the affair prior) and decided to make four right turns to see if she was following him, he said. Once he realized she was following him, he called his wife to tell her what was happening. He then called law enforcement.
“I would rather open up Pandora’s Box and call in law enforcement—not because of my authority but as a citizen who was being stalked,” he said. “I told them there was a suspicious vehicle following me.”
When Clay County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived on scene, Daniels said they asked him if he wanted Smith arrested.
“I said ‘do what you think you gotta do,’” he said. “The sergeant kept asking me what I wanted and I kept repeating ‘do what you gotta do,’ but it seemed to me he was looking to me for what the right answer was,” he said.
Daniels said he removed himself as sheriff from the situation and was only calling as a citizen concerned for the safety of him and his wife, who had decided to work toward mending their relationship post-affair. The next morning he received a call from the undersheriff who told him Smith had been arrested for armed trespassing and armed stalking.
While being followed, Daniels turned into Oakleaf Elementary School and Smith followed him. This is where the arrest took place.
“Within less than two weeks, I was the subject of a criminal investigation,” he said.
Daniels said he didn’t hear anything from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for almost over a year and was suspended from the position of sheriff by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“I understand why because you can’t have a sheriff sitting in the seat with criminal charges over them,” he said. “It is embarrassing to mix professional with personal and I felt bad, not for myself, but for my family and the Clay County citizens.”
Since the acquittal, Daniels and his wife have worked to mend their relationship, he said.
“During that time, things were shaky as they should have been,” he said. “By the grace of God, she [his wife] leaned on him and Bible scripture to get through a tough time in marriage.”
“We were together for 40 years. You don’t just walk away from that much time. We had been together since we were 17-years-old and she had every right to walk away,” he said. “If she ever does, she still has every right. I wish and pray that she does not, but even if she ever did, I couldn’t blame her.”
Daniels said that trust is built by repetition and positive actions and that is the way he has been living. Since stepping down from sheriff, he has been writing a book about law enforcement and leadership including some of his own experiences with respect to the profession, he said.
His wife went back to school and is now “Doctor Daniels,” he said. The two of them have remained involved in Clay County and other organizations across the country, he said.
Additionally, he has been “laying low” and enjoying time with his family.
He taught his 7-year-old granddaughter how to shoot a bow and arrow, grow vegetables and took her to various lessons such as piano and swimming, he said.
“My main hobby is hunting and I have been doing a lot of that,” he said. “When I was sheriff, I took pride in hunting bad guys. I want the Clay County people to know that I love ‘em and I miss ‘em and I want to be their daggone sheriff again.”
Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook is currently facing an unlawful labor practices complaint filed against her by the Fraternal Order of Police. When asked if Clay County deputies should be able to unionize, Daniels said “yes.”
“It protects employees not from good sheriffs, but from bad sheriffs,” he said. “It mitigates lawsuits about unfair labor practices, it mitigates lawsuits about severe disciplinary actions that are outside the scope of the written directions and policies of the sheriff’s office that pertain to misconduct. It also takes the load off of decision makers in the sheriff’s office on pay raises. It leaves it up to the negotiators and the state.”
Daniels, additionally, said that he started a lot of things that had never been done in Clay County and would plan to do that again. For example, each quarter he met with other county officials to have a conversation about where the sheriff’s office money was being spent, and how much he predicted they might need for each upcoming fiscal year.
Clay County school board member Erin Skipper criticized the Clay County District Schools Police Department during a July 2023 board meeting, claiming their current operations scream “Parkland all over again.”
The board will now consider restructuring the district’s emergency operations and whether or not jurisdiction should be given back to the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.
Daniels said it “struck him odd” that the school police department had not sought out accreditation and that he believes the department was, from its inception, based on politics.
“Law enforcement accreditation is really where I cut my teeth professionally and that moved me up the ranks,” he said. “Accreditation protects a law enforcement agency from policies that are kind of ‘willy nilly.’ It works on evidence-based practices to keep organizations professional in keeping up with the expectations and norms and trends in the community.”
Daniels said he was there when former Clay County District Schools Superintendent Addison Davis proposed the creation of a school police department and that each option on the budget that year included a police department, even though the Clay County Sheriff;s Office wanted to provide those services exclusively, he said.
“I knew we could provide a better service. Nobody seemed to have any questions about why they [the school district] chose to use a smaller approach rather than the big fish in the water, but Clay County is very political.”
When the school police department was formed, Daniels (still sheriff during that time) told every deputy that if anything were to transpire that compromises the safety of Clay County school children, “we will break protocol to eliminate threats or come up against those folks,” he said. “Thank God that never happened.”
Daniels has not yet submitted his entry to the Clay County Supervisor of Elections officially announcing his campaign.
Once Daniel’s paperwork is submitted, more information regarding his campaign and goals for Clay County will become available. Click here to visit the Clay County Supervisor of Elections webpage for the most up-to-date information about active candidates.
Daniels said he was ending his NewsBreak interview with one question he has for Clay County residents:
“If you thought I was doing a good job while I was sheriff while I was there then (in the past), and I have gotten rid of all this ‘baggage’ that I supposedly had, what kind of job do you think I will do now without the baggage?”