A Oklahoma county official resigned Wednesday after he was allegedly caught on a secret recording complaining about not being allowed to lynch black people and discussing hiring a hitman to kill local reporters.
McCurtain County Commissioner Mark Jennings submitted a handwritten note to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office stating that he is resigning immediately after he and others in the McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office allegedly made the alarming statements in a private conversation recorded by one of the local journalists.
Jennings said he soon planned to release a public statement “regarding the recent events in our country.”
His conversation with Sheriff Kevin Clardy, sheriff’s Capt. Alicia Manning and Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix was captured by a recording device McCurtain Gazette-News publisher and editor Bruce Willingham left inside a room following a county commissioner’s meeting on March 6.
Willingham was hoping to record evidence that the officials were continuing to conduct county business outside of the meeting time — in violation of Oklahoma’s Open Meeting Act.
But what he heard was even more jarring — the officials allegedly spoke about killing him and his reporter son and made racist remarks.
“I’m gonna tell you something,” Jennings allegedly told the others in the recording. “If it was back in the day when that, when [former county Sheriff] Alan Marshton would take a damn black guy and whoop their ass and throw him in a cell? I’d run for sheriff.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not like that no more,” Sheriff Clardy replied.
“I know,” Jennings said. “Take them down to Mud Creek and hang them up with a damn rope. But you can’t do that anymore. They got more rights than we got.”
They then turned their conversation to Bruce and Chris Willingham, who have done reporting critical of the sheriff’s office.
Jennings says he knows “where two deep holes are dug if you ever need them,” in an apparent reference to the journalists.
“I’ve got an excavator,” Clardy responded.
“Well, these are already pre-dug,” Jennings said.
“I’ve known two or three hit men,” he added. “They’re very quiet guys, who would cut no f–king mercy, in Louisiana, cause it’s all mafia around here.”
The McCurtain Gazette-News, a print-only newspaper, published a transcription of the recording earlier this week. The comments prompted protests from residents and calls for the officials to resign.
In response, the sheriff’s office made a bizarre statement on Facebook claiming the recording was obtained illegally and appeared to be altered.
The office didn’t address the context of the alleged discussion or apologize for the statements made and said they “regretted” having to address the issue.
“The last 72 hours have been amongst the most difficult and disruptive in recent memory,” the office said in the Monday post. “This is a very complex situation and one we regret having to address.”
The sheriff’s office said it’s investigating the incident.
“Our preliminary information indicates that the media released audio recording has, in fact, been altered. The motivation for doing so remains unclear at this point,” the statement said. “That matter is actively being investigated.”
Bruce Willingham said he suspects the alleged threats to his and his son’s lives were made in response to “stories we’ve run that cast the sheriff’s office in an unfavorable light.”
The paper published a series of investigative stories about the office, including its handling of the death of Bobby Barrick, a man who died in March 2022 after he was shot with a stun gun by McCurtain County sheriff deputies.
“I was completely appalled and frightened, quite frankly,” Bruce Willinghan told News 9 upon listening to the recording.
The father-and-son journalist duo have had previous spars with the sheriff’s office. Chris Willingham filed a federal lawsuit against the office alleging that Manning made false and slanderous claims about him in retaliation for his articles critical of her and the office. The suit was filed on the same day the recording was made.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has launched an investigation into the officials’ shocking remarks as requested by the governor.
Jennings refused to comment on the recordings when reached by News 9.
With Post wires
The post Oklahoma official resigns after he’s recorded discussing lynching black people, killing reporters appeared first on New York Post.