Q&A: Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell says goodbye after more than 14 years in office

Published: Jan. 4, 2021 at 6:20 PM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell is saying goodbye after more than 14 years in office. She will be replaced by Sheriff-elect Clovis Watson Jr. after losing the 2020 democratic primary. Darnell spoke with TV20′s Brianda Villegas on her last day as sheriff. She reflected on her time in office:

Q: “How are you feeling right now?”

A: “At first it was very painful, from the standpoint of just the shock of not being able to continue for 4 more years. I’ve gone through the 5 stages of grief and I’m at the point of recognizing all the accomplishments that have happened here. I’ve been able to be a part of a lot of great energy of working with some tremendous command staff. The agency is very solid and is at its highest peak and so if there was any chance or need for a transition, now’s the time. It’s a well oiled machine, it’s ready to go, it’s like a brand new car. For me personally, I’m resting on the accomplishments and looking back and reflecting on all the great relationships that I’ve been able to build and collaborations. I’m leaving on a high note and a good note and looking forward to the new adventure.”

Q: “How is the transition going with Sheriff-Elect Clovis Watson Jr?”

A: “We’ve had two meetings so far, we’re having another one this afternoon. There are some forms required to be signed by statute. I have all the information ready, I’ve got stacks of time sensitive action items that need to be addressed. It’s going smooth, I’m making it as easiest as possible and as informative as possible. He shouldn’t have any problems finding his way and the first couple days. He’s got some great command staff here and Art to be by his side to be able to lead him in the right direction.”

Q: “What is the legacy you want to leave behind for people to look back on?”

A: “Primarily that this is a go-to agency. It’s a go-to agency for the residents and visitors who live here to know that if they do call us or if they do need us, they’re going to get the professional level of service that is delivered with integrity, high level of ethics and very well trained and professional, equipped staff. From the standpoint of how we work with the other sheriff’s, our neighbor sheriffs who are on our boundaries, we also are seen as the go-to agency. I think that’s my legacy that I’d like to see that people see us and view us as a can do, get it done, go-to agency.”

Q: “I’d like to reflect back on a couple events that caught the eyes of residents. One of them being the case filed by the County Commission.”

A: “It’s not finished yet. It’s gone through the local circuit court that ruled in my favor and then it’s gone through the district court of appeals and the three justices ruled in my favor but the county is still pursuing it and now it’s going to the Florida Supreme Court. They have heard the arguments on both sides and we’re waiting for their determination. I really hoped that the determination would have come before I needed to leave the office but it still will come about sometime in 2021, I hope to be a part of that, I feel certain that it’s still going to be a ruling in my favor and you’re right, it will affect every sheriff in the State of Florida.”

Q: “I’d like to ask about the Zack Zedalis case where he did comment about getting compensated about lost wages, is there any comment that you’d like to give on that?”

A: “That case is still going forward, it’s likely to be appealed. I still believe in the matter of law, if this is looked at as a matter of law, there’s still some determination that needs to be made so I can’t comment about it in specifics because it is still an ongoing case.”

Q: “What are some of the most memorable memories that you made here and things that turned out to be positive for Alachua County residents?”

A: " Well in the area of intimate personal violence, when I first came in as sheriff, Alachua County was designated as one of the five counties in the State of Florida, this is going back to 2006, Alachua County was one of the counties with the highest rate of intimate partner violence related murders. That has changed significantly over time. We’ve put into place an assessment tool that has been research based and is used every single day. We have the establishment of the high risk team that’s an active ongoing part of our victim advocates. They work closely with our criminal investigation division and our patrol deputies from the standpoint of identifying and recognizing the severity of the nature of intimate partner violence and how it does and can exist at every economic level. It impacts potentially every single person within our county from the standpoint of the aftermath of that kind of tragedy. So I see that as one of my hallmarks, if you will. Always also fall back to the level of training. We’re known throughout the southeast as having some of the best most consistent, most appropriate training in this area and I believe that’s why you see that the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office is well above most law enforcement agencies across the nation regarding some of the concerns that are being voiced about racial injustice and social injustice. We’ve done the things that have been recommended at the national level. We’ve been doing them for many many years now so we’re well situated to continue to transform where needed in that area and to make sure that people are aware of that high quality of talent and caliber of personnel that we have here at this agency.”

Q: “Do you have any message for your colleagues, residents here that you’ve impacted personally?”

A: “Everyone’s going to be looking at a different form of leadership. My best advice is for everyone to adapt and lead from where they stand. They know what to do and I’m sure that they will carry on and do the work they know is the right way to go and for the right reasons.”

Q: “What are your plans for the future? What’s to come?”

A: “I am getting used to having not much stress in my life so it’s feeling pretty good right now. I don’t plan to make any major decisions on at least first quarter of the year, I want to try out what retirement feels like. I may find that I really enjoy it. My sister says that I will so a lot of other people that have retire say that retirement is a good way to go. So i’m going to rest and look forward to savoring the fruits of my labors. I worked very, very hard for over 42 years in this profession. I came in as a career law enforcement professional, I made my decisions based on being a career law enforcement professional and I think I made a good mark on this agency with the help of a lot of good people.”

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