Emery Gainey, a Republican veteran of sheriff’s duties across Florida, will ascend into the role of Alachua County Sheriff Monday following his appointment to the position by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Gainey has been learning the ropes since around Sept. 16 by shadowing Sheriff Clovis Watson, his predecessor, and meeting with county officials, sheriff’s office spokesperson Art Forgey said.
“He is going to come into office with a good feeling of how things are and how things are running,” Forgey said.
Overcoming staffing shortages at the sheriff’s office is one of Gainey’s primary goals for his term, Forgey said. Employees have had to work overtime to cover for a lack of staff members.
“It puts a lot of pressure on our employees who then take it home, and there's pressure at home,” he said. “So it's a vicious cycle that we need to break and go ahead and get staffed.”
Gainey has not responded to emails, phone calls and texts requesting an interview as of Sunday. He intends to run for sheriff as a Republican in the 2024 election, according to his statement of candidacy filed Sept. 24.
He has contributed a total of just under $3,000 to various Republican candidate campaigns since 2002 — that includes $250 to Florida Sen. Keith Perry in 2016, $300 to Florida Rep. Chuck Clemons and most recently $500 to Robert Woody, who is running for Clemons' seat in 2024.
The search for the new sheriff began this summer when Watson resigned from the sheriff’s duties because of his health in a July 31 letter to DeSantis. In the letter, he promised to use his remaining time in office to ensure a smooth transition of power.
“I wish to thank the citizens of Alachua County who have allowed me the honor to serve as their Sheriff as well as the hard-working men and women of this great agency for all that they do on a daily basis,” he wrote.
Watson’s time as sheriff was marked by a lawsuit filed against him by employees for violating their rights as deputies during an internal affairs investigation, and one employee accused him of racial discrimination. A judge sided with the employees in May.
Gainey’s experience with law enforcement made him a good candidate to succeed Watson, said Julia Friedland, deputy press secretary for DeSantis.
“Emery Gainey is extremely qualified for the position,” she wrote in an email.
Gainey spent about 25 years at the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office from 1982 to 2007, working his way up to chief of staff. When Forgey joined the staff, Gainey served as a patrol captain; Forgey remembers him being very knowledgeable and people-oriented, he said.
“He will be a sheriff that walks the halls and talks to people on a regular basis, knows their families and knows all about them,” Forgey said. “A real people-type person.”
His time at the office was capped by his loss in the 2006 election against Democratic candidate Sadie Darnell, earning only about 36% of the votes. He will be the first Republican sheriff to hold the office since Steve Oelrich, who served up until 2006.
He went on to work at the Florida Office of the Attorney General from 2007 to 2020, with a break from 2016 to 2017 to serve as Marion County Sheriff, to which he was appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott.
Paul Bloom, a spokesperson for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, remembers Gainey making substantive and lasting changes to the office, despite spending less than a year there — the office threw a big going-away party for him, Bloom said.
He thinks Gainey will be a good fit in Alachua County thanks to his leadership style and ability to handle tumultuous situations, like a controversial sheriff’s retirement, he said.
“He’s the kind of guy that, when you get around him for just about five minutes, he’s really captivating,” Bloom said.
The Florida Office of the Attorney General did not respond to email and phone call requests for comment as of Sunday.
Gainey has served as chair of the Santa Fe College Board of Trustees since 2021. As a trustee, Gainey cares deeply about the community and is an engaged professional, said Jay Anderson, a spokesperson on behalf of college president Paul Broadie.
“He's always well-informed, knowledgeable and is a problem solver who values the opinions of others,” Anderson said. “I know that the citizens of Alachua County will benefit greatly because of his leadership at the sheriff's office.”
Contact Alissa Gary at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @AlissaGary1.
Alissa Gary is a second-year journalism major who's covering K-12 education for The Alligator. She has previously reported on student government and university administration. Aside from writing, she likes to take care of her plants and play (and usually win) the New York Times sudoku puzzle.