OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Political backlash after county officials are allegedly caught on a recording discussing the murder of a journalist and hanging Black Oklahomans.
“It does not reflect how Southeast Oklahoma is,” said State Rep. Eddy Dempsey, R-Valliant.
The Republican represents McCurtain County, where the recording took place.
Dempsey said he is “lifelong friends” with McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy and County Commissioner Mark Jennings.
But admits their comments deserve consequences.
“I honestly think they should resign,” said Dempsey. “It’s no hearsay, it’s no two words – I mean they were recorded so it should be a resignation.”
The McCurtain Gazette reported the news over the weekend.
It alleges that McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy, County Commissioner Mark Jennings, and another county sheriff employee Alicia Manning were allegedly caught on a recording device during a county commissioner meeting in March.
In the recording, the three officials can be heard discussing potentially killing a journalist and the hanging of Black Oklahomans, almost reminiscing on archaic and racist punishments.
Transcripts from the audio:
“If this was back in the day when Alan Marston would take a damned Black guy and whoop their ass and throw them in the cell, I would run for f**** sheriff,” said Jennings, according to the Gazette.
“It’s not like that no more,” responded Clardy.
“I know – take em down on Mud Creek and hang em up on a damn rope, but you can’t do that no more. They got more rights than we got,” concluded Jennings.
Graphic Language Warning: Link to transcripts from the audio recording provided by Bruce Willingham’s attorney.
The McCurtain Gazette reported its employees, a father and son duo, Bruce and Chris Willingham, are the ones being threatened in the tapes.
At one point, Jennings allegedly brags about knowing “hit men.”
“I’ve known two or three hitmen that are very quiet guys and would cut no f**** mercy — in Louisiana,” said Jennings.
According to the Gazette, the recording took place on March 6. That is the same day Chris Willingham filed a lawsuit against Sheriff Kevin Clardy, the Board of Commissioners, and Alicia Manning, for First Amendment violations.
“For nearly a year, they have suffered intimidation, ridicule and harassment based solely on their efforts to report the news for McCurtain County,” said Christin Jones, an attorney for the Willinghams.
Sunday evening, Governor Kevin Stitt weighed in.
Stitt said he was “both appalled and disheartened to hear the horrid comments,” and called for the officials to resign.
He is calling on OSBI to investigate the situation.
There was an emergency commissioners meeting scheduled for 9am on Monday in McCurtain County.
Only the mayor of Idabel was in attendance.
A protest by McCurtain County residents on Monday called for the resignations of all involved.
The McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office made a post of Facebook Monday night in response to the incident.
The last 72 hours have been amongst the most difficult and disruptive in recent memory. This is a very complex situation and one we regret having to address.
“There is and has been an ongoing investigation into multiple, significant violation of the Oklahoma Security of Communications Act, Title 13, Chapters 176.3 and 176.4 which states that it is illegal to secretly record a conversation in which you are not involved and do not have the consent of at least one of the involved parties. There is a significant number of victims of this criminal activity and it has taken significant effort and time to identify them and corroborate evidence.
“Many of these recordings, like the one published by media outlets on Friday, have yet to be duly authenticated or validated. 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. That matter is actively being investigated.
“In addition to being illegally obtained, the audio does not match the “transcription” of that audio, and is not precisely consistent with what has been put into print.
“Multiple agencies are assisting in this ongoing investigation.
“As a result of the press release that went out on Friday, a large number of threats of violence including death threats have been made against county employees and officials, their families and friends.
“There will be continued press releases from this agency as the investigation comes to a close and findings are forwarded to the appropriate authorities for felony charges to be filed on those involved.”McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office.