McCurtain County officials face multiple calls to step down over racist, threatening remarks
Updated Tuesday, April 18, at 7:47 a.m.
The McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office claims that recordings that allegedly captured county officials making violent and racist remarks were altered and were released illegally.
At a March 6 meeting, the four county officials were allegedly recorded saying they miss when racist violence in law enforcement was acceptable, threatening to kill journalists and making fun of a burn victim.
In one of the recordings, Sheriff Kevin Clardy can allegedly be heard saying "you can't do that anymore" and bantering with county commissioner Mark Jennings after he said he'd run for sheriff if law enforcement could still be violent to Black people. In another, Clardy and Jennings are allegedly heard discussing plans to kill journalists.
In a Facebook post Monday night, the Sheriff’s Office claimed their preliminary investigation showed the audio had been altered, and that the release was a violation of the Oklahoma Security of Communications Act.
"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," the post reads.
The McCurtain Gazette-News, which broke the story and the recordings, claimed they could be shared because they were taken at a public meeting.
The statement comes after Gov. Kevin Stitt called for the immediate resignation of Jennings, Clardy, investigator Alicia Manning and jail administrator Larry Hendrix after the recordings were published by the newspaper.
None of the four officials were at the commissioners’ Monday meeting, which drew a crowd of demonstrators outside the building and in the meeting room. Before the meeting, Idabel mayor Craig Young called for resignations.
The state attorney general's office has confirmed it is looking into the matter.
Updated Monday, April 17 at 1:16 p.m.
Protestors took to a McCurtain County Commission meeting Monday morning, echoing calls for local officials who made racist and threatening remarks during a previous public meeting to step down.
According to a Facebook livestream from McCurtain County Community News, the Mayor of Idabel, Craig Young, joined dozens of people in calling for the resignations of several officials caught on tape in a conversation where it was lamented that the hanging of Black people is no longer permitted.
Young said Monday that despite the discussion that was apparently secretly recorded at the commission’s March 6 meeting, McCurtain County should not be painted with a broad brush, and that protestors are only asking for a wrong to be righted.
“Listen, the story that you guys heard, it does not represent McCurtain County. We have good folks in McCurtain County. If we were so racist, it would not be such a diverse group here. We’re not racist here. Somebody made a mistake. We’re here to ask that they pay for they mistake,” said Young.
The solution would be for those involved in the conversation to cease representing McCurtain County, said Young.
“We’re asking them to resign,” said Young. “We are waiting on results.”
During the public comment portion of the brief meeting when remarks were limited to 30 seconds, a citizen, Lonnie Watson, who said he represented dozens of gathered protestors, named specific names of officials.
“We are asking for the resignations of the following people because of their actions taken, because of the audio, and because of their failure to lead, and because of the trust that it is involved in this community, and because they are not holding themselves or being held to a higher standard. We’re asking for the resignations of one Alicia Manning, one Kevin Clardy, one Mark Jennings, one Larry Hendrix, and one Robert Beck,” said Watson.
The local call for action follows on the heels of a statement from Gov. Kevin Stitt, who requested the resignations of Clardy, Jennings, Manning, and Hendrix.
Following allegations of racist, threatening, violent and disrespectful comments at a public meeting, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has called for four McCurtain County officials to resign.
In a statement released Sunday, Stitt called for McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy, District 2 Commissioner Mark Jennings, sheriff's investigator Alicia Manning and Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix to immediately resign from their positions. He’s also called for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to determine any possible criminal activity in connection with the recordings.
Oklahoma Attorney General's spokesperson Leslie Berger confirmed on Monday that her office is investigating the situation.
Stitt’s call for their resignations comes after audio of a March 6 meeting was released by the local newspaper, The McCurtain Gazette-News. The audio appears to capture:
- Clardy and Hendrix making jokes about barbecue in reference to an arson victim
- Jennings conferring with Manning and Clardy about killing journalists. Jennings talks about digging holes and hiring hitmen in these conversations
- Jennings telling Clardy he’d run for sheriff if law enforcement were still allowed to be violent to Black people
In the last conversation, Jennings alleges the county sheriff in the 1980s would beat Black people and hang them by a creek. He then said Black people have now “got more rights than we got.”
In his statement, Stitt said he was “appalled and disheartened” to hear the comments.
“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,” his statement reads. “I will not stand idly by while this takes place."