In a personal message to constituents, posted on his office’s website, Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels declares that his two main objectives are “crime reduction and community engagement.” The results of the first are mixed. However, when the sheriff had his pregnant mistress arrested for stalking after his wife found out about their years-long affair, said community became extremely engaged.
On May 29, Folio Weekly ran a stranger-than-fiction story, 50 Shades of Clay. It began with a bizarre arrest that unfolded at the sheriff’s behest on May 6. Daniels and his paramour, Cierra Lewis Smith, were to meet at their favorite spot in the Oakleaf area. But when Daniels spotted Smith, he contacted his deputies, advised them that Smith was stalking him and ordered her arrest—all while Denise Daniels, the sheriff’s wife and a mental healthcare worker who had threatened to kill Smith days before, watched and recorded the incident.
The media picked up the lurid tale on May 13, with fleshy details courtesy of Smith herself. The damage was compounded by the release of related details in a JSO Internal Affairs report. Smith was the subject of that investigation, but Daniels was caught in the dragnet.
Finally, Smith’s estranged husband, U.S. Army First Lieutenant Larry Smith, who had precipitated the JSO investigation, spoke to Folio Weekly.
Daniels remains sheriff despite public outcry and a newly opened Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into his actions. Insiders and officers of the CCSO have been leaking his actions—and inactions—like a sieve. And Daniels has been taking note. Sources said several weeks ago, he convened a meeting with officers and warned that he had launched an investigation to find the leakers. If found, he said, they would be removed from their jobs and be prosecuted. He also told them he was their boss, he would remain their boss, and he would seek re-election. Those in attendance said Daniels relayed that he’d been notified the FDLE investigation was “no big deal” and he had “nothing to worry about.”
At a June 14 patrol briefing, however, Daniels appeared “unhinged” with paranoia. Attendees said the sheriff punctuated the meeting with numerous obscenities, shouting that if he found out who’d been leaking information, he would “kill the motherf*cker!” Sources report Daniels ranted on, declaring that one day they’d be putting him in jail “for beating up people when I’m not sheriff.”
Folio Weekly has obtained a copy of an anonymous letter sent to Governor Ron DeSantis several days after the June 14 meeting. Sent on behalf of the men and women of the CCSO, the letter expresses concerns regarding Daniels’ state of mind and details his demeanor and language—including his threat to kill the leakers. “We are concerned about not only the reputation of the Sheriff’s office, but also our safety,” it reads. “He is losing touch with reality and appears violent.”
The letter also details how the FDLE came to the CCSO and questioned officers about the sheriff’s mistress and her “illegal arrest.” The document suggests that FDLE investigators showed “no discretion” in their questioning process. It seems the agency interviewed officers at their desks, mere feet away from their boss’ office. This action, they said, offered no opportunity to be open and honest out of fear of retaliation. In addition, the document indicated that officers were concerned about retaliation from Undersheriff Ray Walden, whom Daniels brought in from the JSO. The author suggests that an “outside person” be appointed as sheriff until the FDLE investigation is completed. The letter wraps with an emphatic “PLEASE HELP US!”
And the sheriff’s bad luck continues. Folio Weekly has obtained a copy of an anonymous request, from within the CCSO, for an internal investigation into the sheriff’s actions. Individuals feel the sheriff put officers’ jobs at risk when he ordered them to make an illegal arrest with no “probable cause.”
Both the sheriff’s wife and his mistress have stood by their shared man, at least publicly. Though Cierra Smith provided the media with damning details of their affair, she refuses to name her child’s father.
Sheriff Daniels is now clinging to his badge and, uncharacteristically, shying from the spotlight. Typically front-and-center, wearing his big white cowboy hat, he now exits public briefings as quickly as possible and refuses to take questions. He was scheduled to appear before county commissioners on June 11 to make the case for a $10 million budget increase—the largest ever requested in the county—but he didn’t show.
The FDLE’s track record of punishing law enforcement officers who violate public trust is dismal, but CCSO insiders said they believe the sheriff is headed for removal and worse. “Even as a sheriff, you just can’t continuously break the law and expect to get off scot-free,” said one officer. “We believe the sheriff’s luck has run out.”