The veteran Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy accused of molesting a Nevada County teen has a rocky employment history with the department, one pockmarked with disciplinary actions and civil lawsuits costing the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements, according to court documents and a law enforcement source.
Nevada County authorities arrested Donald Black, 43, at the Sacramento County sheriff’s north station on Tuesday. He was booked in the Nevada County jail on suspicion of five counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a child 14 or 15 years old, and has since been released on bail.
Black, a 23-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department, was not on duty during the time of the alleged abuse, authorities said. He has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.
Efforts to reach Black, who lives in Grass Valley, were not successful Wednesday. His mother, Sherry Black, said her son and the rest of the family are in shock. “It’s a horrible thing because we know he’s not the type that would ever do something like this, ever,” she said. “You could talk to anybody who knows this family and they would all tell you the same thing.”
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Sheriff Scott Jones said he could not discuss the case. Kevin Mickelson, president of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, also said he could not comment.
The nature of the allegations against Black has jolted many in the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. But the fact Black is in trouble again has come as less of a shock to those familiar with his history of professional misconduct within the agency, according to one law enforcement source.
Black has been disciplined on multiple occasions in his 23 years at the department, for offenses ranging from unauthorized ride-alongs and verbal abuse of suspects to excessive force, according to the source, who was familiar with but not authorized to speak about Black’s personnel history. He described Black as charming and intelligent, with a lot of potential that had been squandered despite a number of second chances.
Superior Court records lay out some of Black’s disciplinary issues. Those records, along with federal court records and Bee research, reveal that the county has paid out more than $400,000 in settlements in cases involving Black.
In April 2006, Black was demoted from the rank of sergeant and suspended for 240 hours because of his role in an incident while he was a watch commander at the Sacramento County Main Jail. In that December 2005 incident, a team of deputies led by Black tossed “flash-bang” grenades into six cells to forcibly remove inmates who had clogged toilets in protest. Two inmates were burned.
In his final order of discipline, contained in Superior Court records, then-Sheriff John McGinness said Black failed to adequately supervise the team of deputies, failed to intervene and failed to determine whether one of the inmates was complying with orders before a flash-bang device was used. McGinness also wrote that Black lied to internal affairs detectives.
Black appealed the discipline, and an arbitrator later ordered him reinstated as a sergeant. He also determined that Black had not intentionally lied to detectives, and reduced the suspension to 20 hours, according to court records.
That incident led to a civil lawsuit and an administrative claim that ultimately resulted in Sacramento County paying more than $300,000 in damages. The District Attorney’s Office, which also investigated the incident, said there were “significant questions” but not enough evidence to criminally prosecute any of the deputies involved.
In the meantime, Black was disciplined again, in connection with another Main Jail incident. In October 2005 – less than two months before the flash-bang incident – Black again was supervising a team of deputies who tried to extract an inmate who refused to follow orders. In that final order of discipline, McGinness wrote that Black failed to monitor his team and put himself in the proper physical position. He ordered him suspended for 24 hours.
An arbitrator rescinded the suspension and instead ordered that the department issue him a written warning in lieu of discipline, according to court records.
Sacramento County paid out another hefty settlement – $90,000 – in 2009. The plaintiff argued that Black and another deputy had detained him, pointed a gun at his head and “dry-fired,” terrorizing him. It was determined that the gun was an air-soft pistol. While the deputies reportedly denied pointing the pistol at the detainee, the county said it was more cost-effective to settle the case.
Court records show Black was named as a defendant in at least two other federal civil suits. One of them resulted in a settlement of almost $9,000; the settlement amount in the other case was not immediately known.
At the time of Black’s arrest, he held the rank of deputy. Court records indicate that although an arbitrator overturned the department’s efforts to demote Black, he lost his sergeant stripes at the end of his probationary period as the result of issues raised in the December 2005 flash-bang incident. That time, his appeal was not successful.