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Oklahoma official resigns over recorded convo about hanging Black people

McCurtain County Commissioner Mark Jennings stepped down after he was recorded talking about hit men and hanging Black people.


Oklahoma’s governor, at the urging of protesters, has called for multiple county officials to resign after they were recorded talking about hanging Black people and killing a journalist.

As NBC News reported on Monday

The governor of Oklahoma has called for the resignations of the sheriff and other top officials in a rural county after they were recorded talking about "beating, killing and burying" a father/son team of local reporters — and lamenting that they could no longer hang Black people with a “damned rope.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt called for McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy, county Commissioner Mark Jennings, sheriff's investigator Alicia Manning, and Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix to step down after the McCurtain County Gazette-News published an article over the weekend about what was captured on the recording.

As of Wednesday afternoon, only Jennings had resigned.

In one of the recordings, an official identified by The McCurtain County Gazette-News as Jennings bemoans the job of modern-day sheriffs and speaks fondly of a time when, he says, officials could mete out harm against Black people. 

“If it was back in the day ... when Alan Marshton would take a damn Black guy and whoop their ass and throw him in the cell? I’d run for f------ sheriff,” Jennings says, according to the Gazette-News.

A man identified by Gazette-News as Clardy, the sheriff, responds that “it’s not like that anymore." Jennings then appears to take things a step further: 

“I know. Take them down to Mud Creek and hang them up with a damn rope. But you can’t do that anymore. They got more rights than we got.”

Evidently, local officials being recorded saying embarrassing or bigoted things is becoming a more common occurrence.

In another recording, Jennings and other officials can be heard discussing hit men and the potential repercussions of harming local journalist Chris Willingham, who previously reported on a man who died at a hospital after McCurtain County deputies shot him with a stun gun, according to the Gazette-News.

Bruce Willingham, the publisher of the McCurtain County Gazette and Chris Willingham’s father, told the Associated Press he believed McCurtain County officials were upset over some of the outlet’s coverage. Bruce Willingham told the AP he’s responsible for the recordings, having left a recording device in a room where a county commissioner’s meeting was being held. 

In a Facebook post shared Monday, the McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office claimed the recording was “illegal.” And, without citing examples, they claimed the audio had been “altered." The sheriff's office said it's investigating the incident.

But Bruce Willingham told the AP he consulted his attorneys to make sure he wasn't doing anything illegal by recording the officials. And some legal experts in Oklahoma have poured cold water on the claims of illegality.

Evidently, local officials being recorded saying embarrassing or bigoted things is becoming a more common occurrence.

Jennings is the first official to fall in the McCurtain County scandal. But stay tuned — it seems likely the list will grow.