folio politics

The Waiting Game

FDLE investigation of Clay County sheriff sure is taking a while

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Some officers in the Clay County Sheriff’s Office refer to their workplace as “The House of Horrors.” It’s a joke, of course, but they don’t smile when they say it. They also don’t see things getting better any time soon, especially since the state agency tasked with putting said house in order seems to be dragging its feet.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) is in the midst of investigating alleged misconduct on the part of Sheriff Darryl Daniels, who on May 6 ordered his deputies to arrest a woman who turned out to be his pregnant mistress of six years—and former protégé at his previous place of employment, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. CCSO whistleblowers contacted the State Attorney’s Office for guidance after Cierra Lewis Smith stunned them with her narrative of the pair’s long and ethically fraught romantic entanglement. Equally perplexed, the SAO deferred to the FDLE. The “arrest” became a “detainment.” On June 26, the FDLE launched an official investigation into the matter.

Now, more than three months later, and despite more revelations that the 54-year-old sheriff has a fondness for young women in general and used his powerful position to solicit phone numbers and contact with women, the investigation remains unresolved. The CCSO is in upheaval, with record turnover, and many insiders have lost confidence that the FDLE will do its due diligence and recommend to the governor that the sheriff be removed from office.

For this reason, one sworn officer within the sheriff’s office apparently took matters into his own hands. Folio Weekly received a copy of an anonymous official request for a CCSO Internal Affairs investigation. First filed in midsummer, the request was re-sent Sept. 27 after receiving no response. The sender, an officer still employed by the CCSO, believes an IA investigation will most likely be a moot point since Daniels has the power to nix any internal investigation he chooses, but he hopes IA will independently consider the sheriff’s alleged actions and assist the FDLE—or at least give the state investigation a shot in the arm.

The FDLE effort certainly seems lethargic to say the least. Folio Weekly interviewed three young women who report that Daniels approached them for their phone numbers under the guise of seeking CCSO volunteers. The women did provide their phone numbers, fearing the powerful sheriff, and began receiving suggestive text messages. One of the women said it appeared the FDLE had retrieved the sheriff’s texts because she was contacted and interviewed. One was not contacted. The third, who lives in Houston, said an FDLE investigator contacted her in July and told her she would be interviewed in Houston as soon as the following week. However, the investigator did not contact her again until Sept. 4. An interview was again suggested, but she has not heard anything since. The young woman is anxious to tell her story to the FDLE because she feels it may afford her some protection if Daniels seeks revenge for shunning his affection and talking about his actions. She changed her phone number, but Daniels found out where she lives and works. She believes he used his law enforcement connections to find her. If he did, law enforcement officials say these actions were also illegal.

Meanwhile, at HQ, the sheriff has reportedly become obsessed with controlling the narrative. In meetings with officers and staff, Daniels has allegedly launched into profanity laced tirades threatening whistleblowers. Sources say there is a “bounty” on the head of anyone who leaks information or may be disloyal to him in any way. This has turned friend against friend and created an atmosphere of distrust. Some have reportedly obliged Daniels with information and have indeed claimed rewards in the form of promotions and pay raises. Others have been fired, forced to resign or transferred from valued positions to dead-end jobs. Some have simply found other employment.

The sheriff has said that he will run and win reelection in 2020 because he has information that the FDLE’s investigation will bear no negative consequences. Furthermore, he doesn’t believe Gov. Ron DeSantis will remove him. Daniels was, after all, an avid supporter during last year’s gubernatorial campaign.

CCSO employees say their future is now up to the FDLE. “The ball is in their court,” says the officer who filed the IA complaint. A lot of unanswered questions remain. Will the FDLE make a half-hearted attempt to score? Will it hold the ball and let the clock run until the 2020 election, effectively forcing the people of Clay County to decide Daniels’ fate? Or will these state investigators do their job and present a clear case to the governor? One deputy summed it up this way: “If the powers-that-be do not do their jobs and Daniels stays, we’re all screwed.”

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