HISTORY LESSON As much as we complain today about the “Good Ol’ Boys” and corrupt elected officials, there was a time when dirty politics and corruption ruled Escambia County. Its king was W.E. “Bill” Davis, who served as Escambia County Sheriff from 1961-1970. Most of those nine years Davis spent before grand juries for gambling and accepting bribes and battling suspensions by the Florida governor.
Bill Davis was a third generation law enforcement officer, starting as a deputy sheriff in 1951. He was shot in the line of duty in 1954 during an incident involving a barricaded suspect. When he was elected Sheriff of Escambia County in 1960 at the age of 33, Davis was the youngest sheriff ever elected in the state of Florida. He was re-elected for an additional two terms.
Davis was finally removed permanently from office after a grand jury indictment for breaking and entering and malfeasance for allowing 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.
Kirk was spurred by reports of Davis’ 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.”
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. It’s rumored that the wife had been Davis’ lover for some time.
Davis 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 was also acquitted of those charges and reinstated.
Davis did have political opposition. Escambia County Solicitor Carl Harper, who later became a famous judge in South Florida, was vigorously working to stop the illegal gambling in the county. In 1968, a plot to kill Harper was uncovered. Five men, three from Pensacola and two from out of the state, were involved. The plot was never tied to Davis, but many felt he and the Dixie Mafia, out of Biloxi, were behind it.
The 1970 indictment didn’t stop Davis’ political ambitions. When Gov. Kirk suspended him from office, Davis filed to run for Congress against Bob Sikes. Sikes easily beat him in the Democratic primary.
Davis’ trial for the breaking and entering into his deputy’s home was declared a mistrial when Davis was charged with tampering with his jury. He was later found guilty and sentenced to six months in the county jail.
Davis ran for Sheriff again in 1980 and was defeated by Vince Seely. There had been 15 candidates in the Democratic primary. Davis went into the Democratic Party run-off as the front-runner, but Seely beat him in the run-off by over 8,210 votes. 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, which is scary.
So as we watch the current generation of “Good Ol’ Boys” fade from power, remember they are wimps compared to their predecessors.