On Tuesday, Aug. 20, at Centerpoint Baptist Church in Middleburg, Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels held his first town hall meeting since he was elected in 2016. It seemed to be a carefully scripted affair, but it eventually went awry—much like his private life.
Daniels was there to promote his request for an additional $10.2 million to augment his present $56 million budget. It's the largest ask in the history of the county. It was also the married sheriff’s first public appearance since he ordered the arrest of his pregnant mistress—a stalker, he alleged at the time. She was released after six hours; officers concluded that there was no “probable cause.” The episode prompted an ongoing Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation.
The Middleburg meeting was uniform-heavy. At least 13 deputies were inside the sanctuary, with an equal number outside the church and in the parking lot. The sheriff surely expected some blowback from county citizens, many of whom have taken to social media to call for his resignation. It didn't materialize. Scattered throughout the largely empty sanctuary were members of his civilian staff and county citizens that served on committees for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Daniels started the meeting by presenting the challenges he faced keeping citizens safe within his budget as it stands today. His department heads each spoke about the sheriff’s wish list. Daniels said he had a large attrition rate and needed more money to pay officers’ larger salaries to keep them from going to other agencies. He intimated—wink-wink—that he did not expect to receive $10.2 million but asked for it so that he would get the $4.9 million he actually needed. Daniels said if he did not get the money he wanted, he could “go to the state” to intercede with the County Commission for him, but he currently had no plans to do so. Traditionally, the state of Florida denies individual department requests for funds and sides with the budgeting agency, in this case the commission. He said he had been talking with several county commissioners and the county manager and felt he would get the $4.9 million he wanted.
County Commissioner Mike Cella told Folio Weekly that CCSO already receives 68 percent of every dollar in the county’s budget—more money than all other county departments combined. Cella said he hopes the commission and Daniels can reach a reasonable budget agreement.
Though the sheriff is asking for a substantial budget increase, his spending habits indicate he has not been a good steward of county residents’ money. When he took over as sheriff, Daniels ordered expensive white cowboy hats for him and his deputies. According to staff, he bought a shiny new black truck for himself, as well as other vehicles which he occasionally drives. Daniels traveled to numerous conventions that officers said were of no intrinsic value to the CCSO. The sheriff paid approximately $5,000 to a Las Vegas dancer and “actress” who came to Clay County to teach yoga to officers for a portion of the day. Sources said the sheriff gave company cars to female civilian employees with whom he was friendly. He used $2,270 of the Crime Prevention Fund to mint commemorative coins with his name emblazoned on them.
The sheriff’s meeting and ensuing Q&A session were live-streamed on Facebook. One of Daniels’ sergeants suggested early on that the sheriff would rather “stick to topic” and not entertain questions about his legal entanglements and personal setbacks. Then, in an evident attempt to preempt any such questions, Daniels announced he would like to address “the elephant in the room.” He blamed the media for his personal and legal troubles and for the investigation by the FDLE.
“Certain things have transpired in the media and have caused the FDLE, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to be conducting an investigation on me and my actions,” he said, denying that he broke the law and refusing to apologize to erstwhile supporters who feel betrayed (“false victims,” in his words).
Daniels was keen, however, to attempt to save his marriage of nearly 30 years. Records from the Duval County Clerk of Courts show that Denise Daniels filed for divorce on July 26. This was after Folio Weekly and several other news sources received photos, taken by a neighbor, of Daniels’ clothes and uniforms scattered on the pool deck—and in the swimming pool—of the family home. The sheriff repeated that he and his wife “are good.” He observed that he had never publicly apologized to his wife, and said he wanted to do so in front of the television cameras and on Facebook live: “I’m going to say in front of God and everybody, I want to make sure that everyone understands, Denise Daniels, I love that woman.”
Daniels wasn’t pleased with Folio Weekly’s follow-up question on the subject. We cited the divorce petition and asked if the couple were still together. The sheriff proceeded to administer a tongue-lashing, punctuated with expletives and misogynistic diatribes. He ended with, “And that’s all I am going to say about that, Blondie.”
The rest of the meeting was cordial enough. Daniels presented a well-thought-out plan for his department’s finances, but insiders say CCSO is unraveling. A letter was sent to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis detailing a June 14 patrol briefing where Daniels appeared “unhinged” with paranoia. The letter said the sheriff was screaming obscenities, shouting that people within the department had been leaking information to the media. He said when he found out who those individuals were, he would “kill the motherf*cker!” Witnesses said the sheriff continued his rant, saying that one day they’d be putting him in jail “for beating up people when I’m not sheriff.”
Since then, insiders say, Sheriff Daniels has been using a “shotgun” approach to deal with any imagined transgressions by employees. Sources say he has moved supervisors to road patrol, relocated longtime officers to night shifts, and shifted several key officers to dead-end positions—all punishment for perceived disloyalty. The sheriff denied taking such punitive actions.
Inside sources say the mass exodus of personnel from the sheriff’s office has nothing to do with the $38,000 starting pay, but with the instability of the sheriff himself. Dozens of officers have left since Daniels became sheriff, while others are looking for positions in other agencies. Some say they are hoping they can hold on to their jobs until Daniels is ousted by either Gov. DeSantis or Clay County voters.
Florida Times-Union reporter Eileen Kelley asked the sheriff why some civilians had been issued CCSO cars. He answered that no civilian employees had been issued cars. Kelley duly challenged that, mentioning one individual in particular. Daniels said he gave her the car because he decided “she deserved it.”
In a bizarre postscript, the Folio Weekly and Florida Times-Union reporters were confronted by one of Daniels’ supporters. The individual ranted that news media invented the allegations that precipitated the FDLE investigation. When Kelley suggested that corroborating public records were readily available, the man became threatening and abusive. An officer had to be summoned.
Daniels then exited, surrounded by television and print media. Folio Weekly asked the final question: As Clay County struggles with financial burdens, does the sheriff think he might help reduce his budget by eliminating unnecessary expenses like white hats, company cars and yoga sessions? The sheriff chose not to answer the question and retreated, guarded by deputies.