Opponent questions Catoosa County sheriff candidate's past

Opponent questions Catoosa County sheriff candidate's past

August 15th, 2012 by Joy Lukachick Smith and Tim Omarzu in News

Gary Sisk

Gary Sisk

In 1990, when Larry Black was a lieutenant with the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office, he ordered a deputy to shoot a knife-wielding suspect in the leg.

The man's leg had to be amputated and, in 1994, a federal court jury faulted Black and the two deputies involved and awarded the man $250,000 in damages.

As Tuesday's run-off election for the Catoosa sheriff seat nears, Black -- the top vote-getter in the primary with almost twice as many votes as his closest opponent Gary Sisk -- is having that settlement and other specifics from his record brought to light.

On Aug. 10 someone anonymously faxed background information about Black to area media outlets, including the Times Free Press, which did its own check into both men's personnel files.

And at a Ringgold, Ga., Republican Party forum on the race Monday night, one resident asked Black and Sisk why they left their last jobs.

Sisk recently sent a mailer challenging alleged "holes" in Black's employment history, including the accusation that Black's decade in private industry doesn't count toward what Black says is 35 years of law enforcement experience.

"I'm just bringing out the truth," Sisk said. "If a man makes claims he has certain experience, if I know them to be false, it's my duty to bring them out. I live in this county, too."

Black said he left the Fort Oglethorpe Police Department because of bad politics, but insists he won't be dragged into fighting dirty to win the Catoosa office.

"We are going to stay professional, because I take a lot of pride in law enforcement," he told a packed room at the forum Monday night.

Larry Black

Larry Black

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.


Sisk, who has spent his entire law enforcement career in Catoosa County, didn't have any disciplinary records in the personnel file provided by the sheriff's office. He started working there in 1989 for a $13,000 annual salary, records show. Sisk resigned in 1990, was rehired in 1991 and worked as a patrol officer and shift supervisor before being promoted to major in 2008.

This is Sisk's first run for office. He's now on leave, which is required of sheriff's office employees running for office.

"I have served this community my entire adult life," he said at the forum Monday night. "I have a passion about keeping this community safe."

But Black argues his greatest strength is his experience and vast education.

Black has a 30-year, on-and-off history with the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office, where he now is on leave as a detective. As head of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Task Force for the last four years, he has fought against methamphetamine and prescription drug problems in the three-county North Georgia region.

Black first was hired at the sheriff's office in 1982 as a dispatcher. Over the years, his job descriptions have included patrol officer, detective, major and jail administrator. He's been rehired four times after leaving to take jobs at other police agencies and in the private sector, records show.

Records indicate Black resigned twice from jobs in Fort Oglethorpe and in Forsyth County, Ga.

Black has run for office before, winning a seat on the Catoosa County Board of Education in 1993. But he chose to resign from the school board after the state appeals court ruled he couldn't be a school board member and work for the sheriff's office, records show.


The 1990 shooting involved Billy Ray Wooten, a tree surgeon who was confronting his estranged wife's adult sons.

Wooten was belligerent and appeared intoxicated, according to Times Free Press archives.

A jury found that Black and deputies Scott Jordan and Clifford Yates used excessive force after Black ordered Yates to end the standoff by shooting Wooten's leg.

Wooten's attorney, James Satcher, said the man was being theatrical, was using a pocket knife and was too far away to do any damage.

But in a statement Black gave in July to Catoosa County News' gun columnist Roger Sherrill, he described Wooten as a "demented person with a knife [who] held five deputies at bay and refused to drop the knife. The suspect used the knife to cut his tongue and then cut an X across his chest."

Wooten had a deputy cornered in the living room when Black gave the order to use deadly force, he stated.

"This is a situation no officer wants to be involved in. That we were put in the situation where we had to use justified use of force," he said on Tuesday.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651. Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.