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The first of several McCurtain County officials in Southeastern Oklahoma has officially resigned following the release of audio that depicts a County Commissioner, a Sheriff, and a Sheriff’s investigator debating how to kill journalists and complaining about no longer being allowed to lynch Black people.

In a press release published on Wednesday and shared by KJRH’s Erin Christy, Oklahoma State Senator George Burns (R-Pollard) announced he’d spoken with McCurtain County Commissioner Mark Jennings ahead of his resignation.

“After I heard about what happened and listened to the audio recording, I personally spoke with both Mark Jennings and Sheriff Kevin Clardy, and told them they needed to resign immediately, and I told the sheriff his staff members who were involved also needed to step down,” Sen. Burns stated.

Oklahoma is once again under national scrutiny and a federal criminal investigation after recordings shared by the McCurtain Gazette-News depicted County Commissioner Mark Jennings, Sheriff Kevin Clardy, and investigator Alicia Manning discussing killing a local journalist, lynching Black people, and joking about a woman who burned to death in a house fire.

Commissioner Robert Beck and jail administrator Larry Hendrix were also present at the unofficial meeting.

McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy, Deputy Alicia Manning, and District 2 County Commissioner Mark Jennings.

McCurtain County Commissioner Mark Jennings resigns

The secretly recorded comments came after publisher Bruce Willingham filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office and the County Commissioners. The county officials continued the conversation by discussing a scenario in which they killed the journalist and buried his body.

“I know where two big, deep holes are here if you ever need them,” Jennings allegedly said.  The Sheriff chimed in, saying he has an excavator they could use for the job.

“Well these are already pre-dug,” Jennings allegedly responded.

Black mayor responds to lynching statements

They continued the conversation by complaining about how they can no longer lynch Black people.

“Take them down to Mud Creek and hang them up with damned rope,” Jennings said. “But you can’t do that anymore. They’ve got more rights than we’ve got.”

Following national outrage, the local Sheriff’s Office released a statement denying the authenticity of the recording, with plans to charge the journalist who recorded them.

The small town of Idabel is the county seat for McCurtain County. The town’s Black mayor, Craig Young, called the response from the Sheriff’s Office “a joke.” Hundreds have protested since the release of the recording.

“It’s a joke,” Young said. “I think it’s terrible. I mean, the damage is done, the trust is gone. Even if the audio recording was illegal, there’s still audio recording out there,” Young told Public Radio Tulsa.

Idabel Mayor Craig Young addresses reporters before a McCurtain County commissioners meting on Monday, April 17, 2023, at the county commissioners building. (Courtesy Cristal Joslin

Young was shocked by Jennings’ statements on lynching Black people.

“Mark and I work very close. We had our tornado back in November, and without the help of Mark and his crew, the district, the McCurtain County district, we would have never gotten this stuff done that quick,” Young said. “It was very shocking.”

What’s next?

The Black Wall Street Times recently spoke to a former McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office official who described a racist culture of daily racial slurs and desires to kill unarmed Black protesters.

During a scheduled Black Lives Matter rally and peaceful protest in Idabel following the 2020 murder of George Floyd, the MCSO’s true colors were allegedly revealed.

“The whole time they were talking, they were glorifying, daydreaming, if they (the protestors) do this, I’m gonna hurt them like this.” When asked to explain how it was the deputies wished to hurt protestors, the official clarified – “with their guns. Shooting them.” 

The latest racist incident in Oklahoma comes as the National Urban League reports that white supremacy remains an overarching threat to Black Americans.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, Republican, called for the officials’ resignations on Monday. So far, only Jennings has resigned.

The FBI and Oklahoma Bureau of Investigations are reportedly reviewing the incident, along with Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond.

Public Radio Tulsa reports the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association Board of Directors voted to suspend McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy, sheriff’s investigator Alicia Manning, and jail administrator Larry Hendrix on Tuesday during an emergency meeting.

It means they can no longer participate in meetings and trainings held by the organization. It’s unclear if they will be reinstated.

Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...

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