Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended on Friday embattled Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels as the fallout continues in a sex scandal investigation against him, days before the first-term lawman faces a primary.
Daniels handed himself over to authorities the day before, after he was charged with a third-degree felony and three first-degree misdemeanors.
Despite these legal adversities, he is still running for reelection, with the primary Tuesday in what is a six-way Republican contest, thus continuing an improbable trajectory of events around the first-term lawman.
The timing of the charges strikes Daniels as “dirty politics,” he has said.
Until Friday, DeSantis had not chimed-in on the developments in Daniels’ case, which was opened over a year ago. The Sheriff famously stumped for DeSantis in 2018, serving as a validator of the Governor’s commitment to law and order in his successful campaign against Democrat Andrew Gillum.
As Governor, DeSantis has the authority to suspend county officers from office if they are charged with a felony, and the charge forced his hand.
For more than a year, Daniels has been under investigation over claims he compelled subordinates to carry out a false arrest of a woman with whom the Sheriff was having an affair. At all times he continued to serve in office, even as questions mounted.
Now, he faces a felony charge for evidence tampering and three misdemeanor charges for knowingly giving false information to law enforcement.
As the probe slogged forward, a series of challengers emerged, filing to run against him in Tuesday’s primary. They sensed a vulnerability to exploit.
Daniels has faced fundraising challenges, especially in recent weeks.
The Sheriff, third in the fundraising derby with $90,757 raised through the end of July, lags behind Atlantic Beach Police Chief Michelle Cook, who has raised $164,975 and Mike Taylor, who raised $111,098.
However, he has used the power of incumbency and a knack for drawing headlines to create earned media moments to overcome the cash crunch.
As July began, the first-term Republican Sheriff brooked controversy with a challenge to Black Lives Matter protesters who may make their way to normally sleepy Clay County. He said he would deputize lawful gun owners.
“Somebody has to step up in front of the camera and say ‘enough is enough,’” said Daniels, vowing that “if we can’t handle you …. I’ll make special deputies of every lawful gun owner in this county.”
However, he likely won’t be deputizing anyone in the near future.
Florida Politics reporter A.G. Gancarski contributed to this article.