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Former Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels’ lover first to testify in his sex scandal trial

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Former Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels sits at the defense attorney’s table early Tuesday as the jury in his criminal trial begins with testimony from his former mistress.

The “other woman” spent almost two hours answering questions as the first witness in this week’s trial of her former lover Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels, who’s accused of illegally telling deputies to arrest her for stalking in 2019.

Cierra Smith, Daniels’ mistress and a corrections officer he supervised in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office before he became Clay County’s sheriff, talked about her intimate relationship with him from 2014 to 2015, then rekindling their romance when she left her husband in North Carolina in 2019 and returned to Jacksonville.

She revealed that Daniels gave her money for trips, jewelry and breast augmentation surgery, and how now ex-husband Larry Smith initiated the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office internal investigation that saw her quit before being fired as a corrections officer.

It all came to a head after Daniels told his wife about the affair and Smith said she had herself voluntarily committed for psychiatric review just days before she was briefly arrested on May 6, 2019, on a charge of aggravated stalking the sheriff in a Clay County school parking lot.

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She said Daniels’ wife, Denise, was “yelling and screaming” at her with a cellphone in her hand as Daniels told a sergeant to arrest her as her daughter watched.

“I was upset. I was scared and I just did not know how to take everything in on top of being pregnant,” Smith replied to Assistant State Attorney Toby Hunt. She would later be asked by the prosecution if the child was Daniels’, to which she said no.

Matthew Kachergus, Daniels’ lawyer, repeatedly asked Smith about parts of her testimony during his 50-minute cross-examination. He disputed that Smith could have heard Daniels tell deputies to arrest her when he was seated in his pickup 10 to 15 feet behind her. He also questioned her about how Daniels drove twice over a median in the school parking lot, with her following and his wife behind her.

“When Mr. Daniels is driving over medians, is it dawning on you that he doesn’t want to meet with you?” Kachergus asked.

“No,” she replied. “… If Mr. Daniels did not want to meet with me, he had the opportunity at a light to make a left toward his house. He made a right into the parking lot toward the park.”

What are the charges against Darryl Daniels?

Daniels, 57, is charged with multiple counts of destroying evidence and knowingly giving false information to law enforcement. His trial is being conducted in the Clay County Courthouse but with a St. Johns County judge to avoid any conflicts.

The scandal surfaced when the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, where Daniels had worked as jail director, announced a 2019 internal investigation into Smith, then a corrections officer whom he had an affair with.

Smith, who testified she met Daniels after getting hired in 2013 as a corrections officer, eventually had “adult relations out of work on a weekly basis,” according to information she gave in a Clay County report. She said she called off their relationship when she got engaged in 2015 but remained friends when she got married.

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.

Smith left her husband and returned to work at the Duval County jail in 2019. But Larry Smith called the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office about her affair, and the internal affairs investigation was launched. Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams recommended Smith be fired in April 2019.

Cierra Smith was arrested after Daniels called emergency dispatch that May 2019 evening, saying he needed backup because he was being followed and was in fear of his life.

Deputies told prosecutors they didn’t feel there was just cause to arrest the woman and Smith was released. But the 4th Circuit State Attorney’s Office requested the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigate him after recusing itself due to conflict of interest.

Daniels was arrested Aug. 13, 2020, following the year-long FDLE investigation into whether he had used his position to illegally order the arrest of a woman he’d had an affair with. Those charges include destroying evidence and three more counts of knowingly giving false information to deputies, court documents said.

More criminal charges were filed in February against the suspended sheriff for two more counts of false reporting to law enforcement and a new one of tampering or destroying evidence, according to Clay County court records.

The governor removed Daniels from office and appointed Michelle Cook as interim sheriff. Cook then beat Daniels and four others to become the county’s first female sheriff, and she officially finished his term before taking the job full-time.

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Cierra Smith, Darryl Daniels' mistress of six years and the corrections officer he had previously supervised, testifies as the first witness in the ousted sheriff's trial.

Cierra Smith, Darryl Daniels’ mistress of six years and the corrections officer he had previously supervised, testifies as the first witness in the ousted sheriff’s trial.

The trial begins

Monday’s jury selection process saw a 200-person pool narrowed down to four white women and two Black men, with a white man and woman as alternates.

In his 25-minute opening statement, Hunt said this will be “a case of truth and integrity because no one is above the law.” That includes Clay County’s then-chief law enforcement officer, who Hunt said evidence will show purposely had Smith arrested.

“Before she is arrested, she hears a conversation with the sergeant and defendant where he says, ‘Go ahead and make the arrest,'” Hunt said. “So at the defendant’s command, the chief law enforcement officer, Ms. Smith gets arrested for stalking and trespass for an incident that was pre-planned.”

But Kachergus said that as “salacious and unsavory” as the disgraced ex-sheriff’s affair was with a former employee, this long and convoluted story “makes very little sense.” He said evidence will show that nothing his client did “was a crime” and that apart from Smith’s statement, this relationship “was over.”

“Nevertheless, Ms. Smith pursued Mr. Daniels. She would say it was a pre-arranged meeting,” Kachergus said in his opening statement. “… There’s no evidence in the phone corroborating a meeting. There’s no calendar. Mr. Daniels is driving home and unbeknown to him, Ms. Smith is lying in wait along Oakleaf Parkway. … This sounds like a stalker!”

Cierra Smith testifies about arranging a meeting with Daniels’ wife

When Smith was called to the stand, she said Daniels told her in late April 2019 that he “thought it would be best to go home” and tell his wife about the affair before it hit the news. Smith said they agreed, saying Daniels even sent her text messages as he was telling his wife.

Then on May 3, Denise Daniels called Smith, using her husband’s personal cellphone. Smith testified on Tuesday that they had a heated conversation, then sent Denise Daniels a photo of her and Darryl Daniels with a text message.

“I believe I said, ‘Make sure to stand next to your husband’ once this hits the news,”  adding that it probably wasn’t the best decision.

Smith said the sheriff next arranged a meeting with her in an Oakleaf Village Parkway park where she could give him a copy of a police recording of a phone conversation between him and her husband. But she spotted Daniels in his pickup truck and followed him as they tried to find a parking spot, ultimately pulling in front of a school.

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She said she saw another pickup truck behind her and a woman she said was Denise Daniels recording video of her. Then two Clay County vehicles blocked Smith in as she heard her lover order the arrest, she testified.

“I saw him hold up his radio in the window,” Smith said. “At that time, I freaked out. I was scared and didn’t know what was going on. I have a truck following me and I’m blocked in and I can’t get out.”

The charge was increased to aggravated stalking when Smith said a deputy asked if she had a gun. She said she had a holstered weapon in her Jeep glovebox, given to her only weeks before by Daniels. She said he was even the one to put it in her glovebox.

Taken to the Clay County jail, she wrote a six-page statement about what led up to the situation in front of the school, then was released and never charged, she said.

Kachergus tried to poke holes in Smith’s testimony, repeatedly giving her, the judge and prosecution copies of her own statements to investigators, extractions of her cellphone calls and text messages and FDLE reports.

Circuit Court Judge R. Lee Smith speaks to the defense and prosecuting attorneys Tuesday morning in former Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels' criminal trial.

Circuit Court Judge R. Lee Smith speaks to the defense and prosecuting attorneys Tuesday morning in former Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels’ criminal trial.

Kachergus asked her why they thought it was a good idea to meet in public when news of their affair was about to pop, adding that there was not “one iota of evidence” to corroborate that it was pre-arranged between them other than what she stated in police reports.

When he asked if Daniels thought her relationship with Daniels would continue, she said he told her he “was never going to leave my side,” although she did not know if that meant it would remain intimate or just be there for support.

The trial is scheduled to last the rest of the week.

[email protected], (904) 359-4549

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Mistress testifies against former sheriff in Jacksonville area trial

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