Sheriff Bill Davis – King of Dirty Politics

Escambia County has a history of crooked, dirty politics. While people like to point to W.D. Childers as the “grandfather” of such dealings, the king was W.E. “Bill” Davis, who served as Escambia County Sheriff from 1961-1970.

Davis was removed from office after grand jury indictment for two counts of gambling. The grand jury came about not because the newly-elected local state attorney, Curtis Golden, was concerned, but Gov. Claude Kirk ordered State Attorney William Hopkins of Tallahassee to investigate Sheriff Davis for misconduct, neglect of duty and incompetence.

The grand jury investigated Davis for drunken, lewd behavior before minors. Davis allegedly kissed ‘minor children, some under the age of 14 years, in an indecent and improper manner.” He supposedly also served alcohol to minors and appeared before them “while not properly clothed, in a lewd and indecent manner.” [Sarasota Journal, Aug. 13, 1970]. The “French kissing” incident happened during a summer trip with the county school safety patrol. Davis was also investigated for entering the home of his deputy and trying to seduce the deputy’s wife.

Davis was also examined for letting family and friends fuel their vehicles at the county pumps. He had already been indicted in 1962 by another grand jury for gambling, but was later acquitted. In 1965, Davis was suspended after being charged with accepting a bribe and conspiracy, but he also acquitted of those charges.

Davis did have political opposition. Escambia County Solicitor Carl Harper, who later became a famous judge in south Florida, fought gambling and Davis. In 1968, a plot to kill Harper was uncovered. Five men, three from Pensacola and two from out of the state, were involved. Harper was vigorously working to stop the illegal gambling in the county. [The Evening Independent, Nov. 29, 1968].

The plot was never tied to Davis, but many felt he and the Dixie Mafia, out of Biloxi, were behind it. Davis, who actually ran for Congress against Bob Sikes after the 1970 indictment, was suspended from office first by Gov. Kirk and later by Gov. Reuben Askew. Davis was later found guilty of tampering with his jury [St. Petersburg Times, June 9, 1971].

Davis ran for Sheriff again in 1980 and was defeated by Vince Seely. Davis went into the Democratic Party run-off as the front-runner (there had been 15 candidates in Democratic primary), but Seely beat him in the run-off by over 8,210 votes [Ocala Star-Banner, Oct. 9, 1980]. Today, there are no run-offs so Davis would have gotten the Democratic nomination and probably won the office back if the 2010 election rules applied….scary.