Gov. DeSantis appoints Michelle Cook to complete Daniels’ term

Cook, the sheriff-elect, becomes first woman sheriff in Florida


GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Michelle Cook was appointed Tuesday as the new Clay County Sheriff, becoming the only woman of 67 sheriffs to run a county law enforcement agency in Florida.

The move was expected since the governor appointed Matt Walsh of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Jacksonville Bureau as the interim sheriff on Aug. 15 – two days after Sheriff Darryl Daniels surrendered to face one felony and three misdemeanor charges relating to an affair he had with a former subordinate when they both worked at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Jail.

Cook then won the Republican Primary on Aug. 18. And since she doesn’t have a Democrat challenger, the former Atlantic Beach Police Chief now is on the job to complete Daniels’ term. She will be officially sworn into office on Jan. 5.

DeSantis came to Clay County to oversee the appointment.

“It’s an honor for me, as governor, to appoint somebody who was elected anyway to get a head start on this term and finishing out 2020 strong for the people of Clay County,” DeSantis said from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.

Cook quickly turned the focus on her new agency.

“I want to thank the men and women of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, the ones here in the room with us today and the ones who work here every single day, the ones who are doing the right thing. That means a lot.

“Today we are turning a page in the history books of our community and at our agency. I want to personally thank interim sheriff Matt Walsh for your leadership over the past few weeks. Your demeanor, your professionalism, were exactly what this agency needed during this crisis. I look forward to us working together as part of a transition team.

“To the citizens of Clay County and to the members of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, I look forward to serving each of you with honor and integrity. I am truly humbled and honored to have this privilege of serving as the next sheriff of Clay County.”

Cook said she spent her first day on the job pouring through the budget to find ways to get more deputies on the street.

“We literally today are going through the budget to look at the number of deputies that we have on the street, and I assure you that if some realignment needs to happen within the organization to make sure that we have enough out there, it will happen,” she said.

Cook was asked about the investigation and charges against Daniels, but she said that was an issue that needed to be directed to the FDLE. She said the timing of the charges – five days before the election – simply “played out like it did.” She also said, “we earned it,” when asked if the arrest affected the tallies on election day.

A check of figures provided by the Clay County Supervisor of Elections confirmed Cook led Daniels by nearly 1,000 votes heading into Election Day. Cook wound up winning by 3,121 votes.

DeSantis, however, talked about the former sheriff and the investigation that took nearly 13 months.

“It was a yearlong thing. I reserved judgment because I didn’t know how things would play out,” he said. “Once it got to the point of live charges, that became an easy decision to do the suspension. Regardless of the election, the facts are the facts and I had to take action.”

According to information filed at the Clay County Courthouse, the former sheriff was charged with felony charge of tampering with evidence by asking the CCSO information technology office to delete information and destroy his cellphone of information, including more than 27,000 calls and text messages, concerning the affair and three misdemeanor charges for making “knowingly false” claims he was being stalked by his former girlfriend. The FDLE was asked to investigate whether Daniels abused his authority by demanding his former lover be arrested.

Ocala State Attorney Brad King gave Daniels two options – quit as the sheriff and withdraw from the race or face charges. Daniels decided he wanted his day in court.

Daniels admitted to the affair after he called CCSO to have Smith arrested in an Oakleaf Village Elementary parking lot. He said she was stalking him.

Smith was briefly detained at the jail but was released without charges.

Daniels pleaded not guilty to all four charges on Aug. 26. His next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 20.


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