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OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has demanded the resignations of multiple top officials in a small rural county after a secret recording revealed an alleged discussion they were having regarding murdering local reporters, assaulting judges, and complaining that they could no longer lynch Black people.
“I am both appalled and disheartened to hear of the horrid comments made by officials in McCurtain County,” Stitt said, who has ordered the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to look into the matter to see if any laws were broken. “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.”
McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy, County Commissioner Mark Jennings, Sheriff’s Investigator Alicia Manning, and Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix have been the subject of intense public criticism and protesting following the publication of an article in the McCurtain County Gazette-News that contained a transcript of a conversation before allegedly had after a public meeting.
The audio of the conversation – which has been turned over to the FBI and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office – was captured by reporter Bruce Willingham, who was investigating if commissioners had been illegally engaging in county business after public meetings.
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Willingham reportedly hid a recording device in the commissioner’s chamber after a March 6 public meeting had concluded; later, he retrieved the device, and upon listening to it, said he was shocked by its contents.
The conversation first centered on Willingham’s son, Christopher Lee Willingham – another reporter at the Gazette-News, whose hard-hitting articles have been critical of county officials – with Manning allegedly saying, “My papaw would have whipped his ass, would have wiped him and used him for toilet paper. If my daddy hadn’t been run over by a vehicle, he would have been down there.”
According to the newspaper, Jennings then said, “I know where two big, deep holes are here if you ever need them,” and claimed to know “two or three hit men” from the Louisiana mafia.
“They’re very quiet guys and would cut no f**king mercy,” he reportedly said.
Clardy then purportedly said, “I’ve got an excavator.”
Discussions were also said by the newspaper to be held on who might be blamed if “anything was done” to Christopher Lee Willingham’s wife, Angie.
The newspaper also reported that the conversation turned to criticism of local judges – including the possibility of assaults against them – before Jenning reportedly mused about a former sheriff who would “would take a damned Black guy and whoop their ass and throw them in the cell.”
“Yeah,” Clardy replied, the newspaper said. “It’s not like that no more.”
“I know,” said Jennings. “Take them down to Mud Creek and hang them up with a damned rope. But you can’t do that anymore. They’ve got more rights than we’ve got.”
None of the four individuals have commented publicly, but on Monday the McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office – which has received threats of violence and death over the matter – issued a statement claiming that the recording was made illegally, appeared to have been altered, and may have violated a state law that disallows secret recordings by third parties.
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