Speed Reads

'appalled and disheartened'

Oklahoma governor calls on officials recorded making racist remarks to resign

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) said he is "appalled and disheartened" by "horrid" and "hateful" comments made by the sheriff and three other officials in McCurtain County, and called on them all to resign.

Over the weekend, the McCurtain Gazette-News published an article about remarks made on March 6 by McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy, County Commissioner Mark Jennings, sheriff's investigator Alicia Manning, and Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix. They were recorded discussing killing McCurtain Gazette-News reporters and hanging Black people, with one individual heard saying, "Take them down to Mud Creek and hang them up with damned rope. But you can't do that anymore. They've got more rights than we got."

Bruce Willingham, whose family owns the McCurtain Gazette-News, received a tip that McCurtain County commissioners were illegally conducting county business after public meetings were over, NBC News reports, and he left a recording device in the commissioners' chamber to see if this was true. Willingham's son, Christopher Lee Willingham, is also a reporter at the newspaper, and earlier March 6 he had filed a lawsuit against Clardy, Manning, and the county commissioners, accusing them of slander and punishing him for his reporting.    

The McCurtain Gazette-News, which published some of the audio recorded by Bruce Willingham's device, reports that when talk turned to killing reporters, Commissioner Jennings told the other officials, "I know where two big, deep holes are here if you ever need them" before claiming he knows "two or three hit men" in the Louisiana mafia. The newspaper also says there was "caustic" criticism of local District Attorney Mark Matloff and "some of the discussion included not only harsh criticism of judges, but also the possibility of assaults on judges here."

In a statement, 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 governor also said he has ordered the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to "initiate an investigation to determine whether any illegal conduct has occurred." About 100 demonstrators gathered outside the McCurtain County Commissioner's Office on Monday, demanding the officials resign.