Oklahoma Governor Calls for Officials to Resign after “Hanging,” Racist Remarks

April 18, 2023

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) said Sunday he was seeking the resignations of four county officials caught on tape making racist remarks and referencing “hanging.”

The recording was made secretly by a local newspaper. It appears to capture one of the McCurtain County officials complaining about two of the paper’s journalists while referencing “hit men” and the location of two already-dug “deep holes” in the ground. 

The recording, a portion of which was released by The McCurtain Gazette-News, also appears to reference one of the four officials making racist comments about Black people. 

Gov. Stitt on Sunday said he was seeking the resignations of McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy, District 2 Commissioner Mark Jennings, sheriff’s investigator Alicia Manning and jail administrator Larry Hendrix.

McCurtain County is in southeastern Oklahoma, roughly 200 miles from Oklahoma City.

According to the Gazette-News, the recording was made hours after reporter Chris Willingham filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office, Manning and the Board of County Commissioners, alleging they had defamed him and violated his civil rights.

The officials in the recording appear to be talking about Willingham and his father, News-Gazette publisher Bruce Willlingham. 

In the recording, Jennings tells Clardy and Manning, “I know where two deep holes are dug if you ever need them,” to which the sheriff responded, “I’ve got an excavator.”

Jennings also said he’s known “two or three hit men” in Louisiana.

The Willinghams have been advised to leave town, according to local media reporting.

In the recording Jennings also appears to complain about no longer being able to hang Black people. “They got more rights than we got,” he says.

statement Monday by the McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office said there was an “ongoing investigation into multiple significant violations” of the Oklahoma Security of Communications Act, which makes it “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.”

“I talked on two different occasions to our attorneys to make sure I wasn’t doing anything illegal,” Bruce Willingham said.

He said he left a voice-activated recorder inside the room after a county commissioner’s meeting on March 6 because he suspected the group was continuing to conduct county business after the meeting had ended, which would be a violation of Oklahoma’s Open Meeting Act.

The sheriff’s statement also said the recording has yet to be “duly authenticated or validated.”

A spokesperson for the FBI’s office in Oklahoma City said the agency’s policy is not to comment on any ongoing investigation. Phil Bacharach, communications director for the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, said the agency had received an audio recording and is investigating the incident, but declined to comment further.

PHOTO Source: Caleb Long

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