Governor Stitt has also demanded that County Commissioner Mark Jennings, Investigator Alicia Manning, and Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix to step down after the McCurtain County Gazette-News published an article over the weekend about the recorded audio
“I am both appalled and disheartened to hear of the horrid comments made by officials in McCurtain County,” Stitt said in a statement released Sunday. “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.”
Stitt has ordered the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to “initiate an investigation to determine whether any illegal conduct has occurred.”
Bruce Willingham, who works for his family-owned newspaper, has turned the full audio over to the FBI and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office, his lawyers said.
The recordings were obtained after the McCurtain County Gazette-News received a tip that that the county commissioners were illegally engaging in county business after the public meetings were over. A recording device was left in the commissioners’ meeting room on March 6 according to the newspaper that was founded in 1905.
When the device was retrieved, the conversation started with a conversation about a fire victim being compared to “barbecue” before the group turned to talking about the newspaper and the Willingham Family that owns it.
“My papaw would have whipped his ass, would have wiped him and used him for toilet paper,” Manning allegedly said of the younger Willingham, according to the newspaper. “If my daddy hadn’t been run over by a vehicle, he would have been down there.”
Jennings allegedly then said, “I know where two big, deep holes are here if you ever need them.”
“I’ve got an excavator,” Clardy allegedly said, according to the newspaper.
Jennings, according to the newspaper, then allegedly said that he knew “two or three hit men” who belong to the Louisiana mafia…They’re very quiet guys and would cut no f—ing mercy.”
The discussion eventually turned to who might run for sheriff against Clardy. Jenning recalled how a former sheriff “would take a damned Black guy and whoop their ass and throw them in the cell.”
“Yeah,” Clardy allegedly replied, “It’s not like that no more.”
“I know,” Jennings allegedly said, “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.”
The paper has announced that additional recordings are forthcoming.
The Sheriff’s Office’s full statement can be read below:
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.