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OK Gov Seeks Officials' Resignations For Racist, 'Hit Man' Remarks

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is seeking the resignation of four county officials after a newspaper’s audio recording apparently captured some of them complaining about two of the paper’s journalists as well as capturing one of the four making racist comments about Black people, the Associated Press reports. Stitt wants McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy and three other county officials to quit, including sheriff’s Capt. Alicia Manning, District 2 Commissioner Mark Jennings, and Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix, “I am both appalled and disheartened to hear of the horrid comments made by officials in McCurtain County,” Stitt said. “There is simply no place for such hateful rhetoric in the state of Oklahoma, especially by those that serve to represent the community through their respective office.” The McCurtain Gazette-News released portions of an audio recording of a March 6 county commission meeting in which Clardy, Manning, and Jennings appear to discuss reporters Bruce and Chris Willingham. Jennings tells Clardy and Manning “I know where two deep holes are dug if you ever need them,” and the sheriff responded, “I’ve got an excavator.” Jennings also said he’s known “two or three hit men” in Louisiana, adding “they’re very quiet guys.” In the recording, Jennings also appears to complain about not being able to hang Black people, saying: “They got more rights than we got.”

Bruce Willingham, the longtime publisher of the Gazette-News, said the recording was made when he left a voice-activated recorder inside the room after a county commissioner’s meeting because he suspected the group was continuing to conduct county business after the meeting had ended in violation of the state’s Open Meeting Act. Chris Willingham, a reporter at the paper, is Bruce Willingham’s son. Bruce Willingham said he believes the local officials were upset about “stories we’ve run that cast the sheriff’s office in an unfavorable light,” including the death of Bobby Barrick, who died at a hospital in March 2022 after McCurtain County deputies shot him with a stun gun. The newspaper has filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office seeking body camera footage and other records connected to Barrick’s death. Bruce Willingham said he has also turned over his audio recordings to the FBI and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office and added he has talked with federal investigators. Under Oklahoma law, the recording would be legal if it were obtained in a place where the officials being recorded did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, said Joey Senat, a journalism professor at Oklahoma State University. The sheriff’s office says the recording was illegal and predicted felony charges will be filed.


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