Jacksonville Civil Rights activist criticizes Clay Sheriff’s message of deputizing gun owners

A video posted to the Facebook account of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) addressing possible future violence within the county stemming from civil unrest witnessed in recent months across America, is getting attention, support and pushback, both nationally and locally.

The video has been shared and commented on thousands of times across several social media platforms.

“God is absent from the media’s message, or Black Lives Matter, or any other group out there that’s making themselves a spectacle, disrupting what we know to be our quality of life in this country,” said Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels.

VIDEO: Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels’ message to protesters

In the video, Daniels says the rights of peaceful protesters to demonstrate would be protected, but violence within Clay County would not be tolerated.

He had this to say about how he would address scenarios of violence within the county in which deputies would need assistance.

“And if we can’t handle you, you know what I’ll do? I will exercise the power and authority as the Sheriff, and I’ll make special deputies of every lawful gun owner in this county,” said Daniels. “And I’ll deputize them for this one purpose. To stand in the gap between lawlessness and civility.”

On Thursday, Ben Frazier, Northeast Florida civil rights activist based in Jacksonville and president of Jacksonville’s Northside Coalition, condemned the video’s message - and demanded an apology.

“His comments are incendiary and fan the flames of potential conflict, and unrest, in our area,” said Frazier.

Frazier considered the message a threat to people looking to protest racial injustice and police brutality peacefully in Clay County in the future.

“I feel that the sheriff of Clay County should be severely criticized and reprimanded for his recent comments,” said Frazier.

Daniels denied the message of special deputies being tapped in Clay County as being a threat in the video posted Tuesday.

“Is it a threat? Absolutely not. But somebody has to step up in front of the camera and say, ‘enough is enough,’” said Daniels.

Meanwhile, many have supported Daniels’ message.

“Thank you,” wrote one commenter on Facebook. “Call me if you need help!”

“Thank you Sheriff Daniels for standing with the freedom loving patriots and our constitution,” wrote another commenter.

Frazier believes the message was put out for political motivations as Daniels seeks reelection.

“It was simply a political ad to bolster his election possibilities in Clay County,” said Frazier.

Several of Daniels’ opponents in the upcoming election have issued statements in opposition to the video.

“… We are seeing the destruction that has occurred around our nation because of lawlessness. How dare him invite people who have no regard at all to the law and yet he invites them to Clay county. He jeopardizes the community’s safety as he challenges them to come to Clay County,” said candidate Catherine Webb.

“… Part of the problem in policing is that some officers need more training in how to interact with all people and all situations, including how to keep calm and how to de-escalate situations. Threatening to ‘make special deputies of every lawful gun owner in this county and I’ll deputize them’ is going to make the problem worse,” said candidate Harold Rutledge.

“… I am deeply concerned at the recklessness displayed by Sheriff Daniels in his recent video taunting “would be” protesters. This video appears to be more about self-promotion rather than professional policing. I am further shocked at the comment he would make “Special Deputies” of all legal gun owners in Clay County,” said candidate Mike Taylor.

"… As a Constitutional Conservative, I am a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment. But when we have a Sheriff's Department where the budget has exploded every year Daniels has been Sheriff and crime is on the rise, this political scam is a self-admission that he is not up to the job. If I was under criminal investigation by FDLE, I'd want to change the subject too." said candidate Michelle Cook.

Candidate Ben Carroll declined to comment on the video’s message.

Action News Jax has reached out to write-in candidate Francis Bourrie by phone for comment, and will update the article with his response.

Complete statements from candidates running for Clay County Sheriff are posted below within this article.

Action News Jax Law and Safety expert, Dale Carson explained that sheriffs in Florida have the legal authority to deputize citizens.

“He still has to stand as being responsible for their behavior to a certain extent, so he runs a risk of his office being sued, if not him individually,” said Carson.

On Thursday morning, Action News Jax requested an in-person, virtual, or phone interview with Sheriff Daniels to ask about the motivations behind the video, and whether there have been instances of violence within Clay County.

CCSO responded saying Daniels’ schedule was booked, they would see what they could do, and went on to say Daniels would be present at a neighborhood meeting in Oakleaf Plantation.

CCSO tweeted and posted to Facebook information about the meeting several times throughout the day on Thursday.

“Sheriff Daniels would like for you to join him and other members of our community tonight for the Zone 2 NET meeting,” the public invitation read on social media. “The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Eagle Landing Golf Clubhouse located at 3989 Eagle Landing Pkwy.”

An Action News Jax crew tried to attend the meeting which had been posted publicly, to ask questions of Daniels, and hear his side of the story. Our crew was denied entry by management at the clubhouse where the meeting was being held in Oakleaf Plantation, and told cameras were not allowed inside.

Our crew arrived at the meeting’s location around 6:20 p.m. - and waited in front of the clubhouse for Daniels to arrive in the time leading up to the meeting, in an area deemed acceptable by management. Prior to the meeting’s start, deputies walking in and out of the clubhouse said Daniels would be arriving at any moment.

Shortly after 7 p.m., our crew was informed by clubhouse staffers Daniels was inside the building where media was not allowed in, and the meeting was underway. Our crew did not see Daniels enter the building.

Action News Jax will continue to follow this story.

Clay County Sheriff candidate statements obtained by Action News Jax

Catherine Webb: “As a citizen of Clay County, I am appalled at the video that Sheriff Daniels has made in regards to his Campaign for re-election. It is his duty to keep the citizens of Clay County Safe. It is also his duty to keep the men and women who serve our Community at the Clay County Sheriff’s Office Safe. We are seeing the destruction that has occurred around our nation because of lawlessness. How dare him invite people who have no regard at all to the law and yet he invites them to Clay county. He jeopardizes the community’s safety as he challenges them to come to Clay County. I call this senseless and a waste of our tax dollars! Fraud, Waste, and Abuse! That is the problem we are having now. 1% of law enforcement officers are intimidating the community and taking the law into their own hands and making the other 99% look bad. He is doing just that and the people of Clay County are not happy with his tactics. This only jeopardizes the safety of the community.

I am a conservative and I believe in the 2nd Amendment. All citizens have the right to defend themselves and their property. This is a political stunt by the Sheriff and I am sure the voters of Clay County see this for what it is.

There are avenues to pursue if lawlessness was on the rise and there are levels of government that are always standing by ready to assist.

If I am elected your Sheriff, I will not Politicize the Office of Sheriff and the men and women who serve for personal gain. I will work for you the people and ensure my agency serves you with the dignity you deserve keeping your safety in mind first!”

Harold Rutledge: “I am appalled at Sheriff Daniels’ Facebook video. He has challenged rioters and looters to come to Clay County and cause mayhem. Clay County was not on anyone’s map to create turmoil until Sheriff Daniels put out his threat. Part of the problem in policing is that some officers need more training in how to interact with all people and all situations, including how to keep calm and how to de-escalate situations. Threatening to ‘make special deputies of every lawful gun owner in this county and I’ll deputize them’ is going to make the problem worse. Police officers with more than 1,000 hours of law enforcement training can have problems in high-stress situations. Imagine putting a badge on someone with zero training — no de-escalation training, no firearms training, no training with the law. I am not sure what he is thinking, but it is not the kind of thinking we need from our top cop. He is already under an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for abusing his power, and here he goes again.”

Mike Taylor: “I am deeply concerned at the recklessness displayed by Sheriff Daniels in his recent video taunting “would be” protesters. This video appears to be more about self-promotion rather than professional policing. I am further shocked at the comment he would make “Special Deputies” of all legal gun owners in Clay County. This again is reckless and irresponsible. He appears to be taunting protesters to come and see what he has for them rather than providing protection to the citizens of Clay County.

Part of the problem we now face in our nation is legitimate concern regarding police misconduct. The power and authority we possess as police officers is only as strong as the trust of the public we serve. We have two candidates running for Sheriff who have been accused of violating that trust. Now, Sheriff Daniels says he would “special deputize” private citizens and place good citizens who are untrained in de-escalation and police use of force in a position to make split decisions that some trained police officers have had difficulty making. This will only invite chaos and anarchy to our streets.

Should I become the Sheriff of Clay County the citizens deserve to know I will have their back. They are already protected by the Second Amendment. They are authorized to defend themselves and their families from the threat of serious bodily injury or death. As Sheriff, not only will I support and defend their rights, I will be out front.

A small fraction of protesters have legitimate concerns that should be heard. We do need police reform. Fortunately 99% of law enforcement officers are consummate professionals and do a fine job. However, there are 1% who make us all look bad. We must do a better job. The answer is not in defunding, disarming or dismantling police departments. The answer is found in recognizing the legitimate complaints and working together to restore trust in the community. If citizens with legitimate concerns choose to peacefully protest, I will join them and work with them. However, when legitimate peaceful protests become hi-jacked by folks with a political agenda who choose to damage property and harm others, they will be put in jail.

I have stated publicly that upon becoming Sheriff, I will deputize the School Police, Green Cove Springs Police and Orange Park Police Officers giving them all county-wide jurisdiction. As a Special Agent Supervisor with FDLE, I was in charge of Mutual Aid and Homeland Security. If there were any circumstances where I believed the law enforcement resources we had were not sufficient, I would first call up retired law enforcement officers in the community, then petition the Governor to stand up the Florida National Guard to work with our Deputies as force multipliers.

Michelle Cook: “Instead of dealing with real issues in a meaningful way, he (Daniels) is behaving like a reality show Sheriff and calling attention to himself. As a Constitutional Conservative, I am a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment. But when we have a Sheriff’s Department where the budget has exploded every year Daniels has been Sheriff and crime is on the rise, this political scam is a self-admission that he is not up to the job. If I was under criminal investigation by FDLE, I’d want to change the subject too.”