Ex-Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels’ sex scandal trial begins Monday

Former Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels fields questions from residents during a town hall rally in 2020. After his arrest amid a sex scandal, he is now scheduled to stand trial this week in St. Johns County.

The triple-delayed sex-scandal trial of former Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels is set to begin with jury selection Monday in a St. Johns courtroom, court officials said.

Already adjourned from Dec. 6 to Feb. 21, Search Assets, then on May 16, District Court Judge R. Lee Smith blocked two weeks for the trial, officials said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis removed Daniels as Clay County Sheriff about two years ago. That came a day after he was arrested on charges of destroying evidence and three more charges of knowingly giving false information to law enforcement in a sex scandal in which he ordered deputies to arrest his mistress for stalking, court records show archives.

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More criminal charges were then filed in February against the former sheriff on two more counts of falsely reporting to law enforcement and one count of tampering with or destroying evidence, according to Clay County court records.

FDLE investigation leads to the sheriff’s arrest

Daniels was arrested on August 13, 2020, on felony and misdemeanor charges following a year-long Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into whether he used his position to illegally order the arrest of a woman he was having a relationship with.

The scandal emerged when the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, where Daniels had worked as a jail warden, announced an internal investigation into a corrections officer with whom Daniels had sex. Daniels told his wife about the affair and then had his officers arrest the woman in May 2019 on stalking charges.

The investigation showed that Daniels called 911 that night, saying he needed backup because he was being followed and feared for his life. The person following him was Sierra Smith, his lover of six years and the corrections officer he had previously supervised.

Former Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels and Cierra Smith in an undated photo.

Former Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels and Cierra Smith in an undated photo.

Deputies told prosecutors they didn’t feel there was just cause to arrest the woman. Smith resigned from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office while under investigation for allegations of misconduct.

The 4th District Attorney’s Office asked the FDLE to investigate Daniels after he recused himself due to a conflict of interest. This investigation found that Daniels lied and also destroyed evidence to hide his relationship with Smith.

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Daniels had decried the 2020 arrest in a video shot by Sheriff’s officials, saying any issues were personal and did not affect his work as sheriff, even though it involved an order he gave to staff.

DeSantis removed Daniels from office the day after the sheriff was first arrested. The governor appointed Michelle Cook as interim sheriff. Cook then beat out Daniels and four others to become the county’s first female sheriff and officially finished his term before taking the job full time.

The new forgery count states that a Google account was altered, destroyed or concealed in 2019, knowing that a criminal case was pending. No details were available on the new false reporting charges.

State attorney request: Assign Sheriff Daniels’ investigation to another circuit

The case was closed in the local court: Judges in Clay County cleared of ex-sheriff’s criminal case

The case was transferred to St. Johns County after an Oct. 10, 2020 letter to the state from Clay County Circuit Court judges said there were grounds to recuse all remaining judges from handling Daniels’ trial.

Assistant State’s Attorney Richard Buxman is set to prosecute, with attorney Matthew Katsergus handling Daniels’ defense.

dscanlan@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4549

This article originally appeared in the Florida Times-Union: Sex scandal trial of former Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels

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