The Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association suspended the McCurtain County Sheriff and two other officials Tuesday after they were secretly recorded talking about killing reporters and lynching black residents after a public meeting.
The vote to remove Sheriff Kevin Clardy, Sheriff’s Investigator Alicia Manning and Jail Administrator Larry Hendricks was unanimous, the sheriffs’ association said on Facebook. The suspension does not remove them from their jobs with the sheriff’s department.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt called for the trio to resign Monday and for County Commissioner Mark Jennings to step down as well.
The McCurtain County Gazette-News identified the four as officials who were recorded March 6 making threatening and racist statements after a McCurtain County Commission meeting.
No one has spoken publicly about the scandal engulfing the county. On Monday, the sheriff’s office said the recording was “illegally obtained,” appeared to have been altered and may have violated a state law prohibiting secret third-party recordings.
Christine Jones of the law firm Kilpatrick Townsend, which represents the paper, insisted that the recording had not been tampered with and that reporter Bruce Willingham, whose family has owned the paper for 40 years, had not broken the law by doing so.
“This is an accurate recording and does not violate the Oklahoma Communications Security Act,” Jones said via email. “The full audio is scheduled to be released on Thursday.”
The entire tape has now been turned over to the FBI and the Oklahoma attorney general’s office, the law firm said.
Dozens of protesters descended on the McCurtain County Commissioners’ headquarters in Idabel on Monday to demand the removal of Clardy and the others after the newspaper article was published.
On Tuesday, McCurtain Memorial Hospital in Idabel was evacuated after receiving a bomb threat shortly after 2:00 PM ET. It was not clear if it was related to the protests.
“The bomb threat was real and the evacuation was real,” said an Idabel police dispatcher. “But we still don’t know if the bomb is real, and we have a bomb squad there right now.”
The hospital said in a statement confirming the threat that “there was a request or the bomb would be detonated”. It is not specified further.
Earlier, hundreds of critics took to Clardy’s official Facebook page and criticized the sheriff’s office for suggesting that Willingham had done something wrong.
“Absolute scum of the earth,” writes Christian Sage Walker. “You were caught on tape talking about lynching black people and hanging journalists and now you want sympathy.”
Another poster, Jay Styles, mocked the sheriff’s response.
“When you get caught mocking an arson victim, complaining that you can’t lynch people and talking about hiring hitmen to kill a journalist… and this is your response…” Styles wrote. “A classy move by the McCurtain County Sheriff.”
Aside from the sheriff’s office’s Facebook post, no McCurtain County officials have commented on the scandal surrounding Idabel and have not responded to emails and calls seeking comment. Willingham did not respond to requests for comment.
The drama began after Willingham, acting on a tip that commissioners were illegally conducting county business after public meetings had ended, left a recording device in the commissioners’ room, the newspaper reported.
Earlier that day, Willingham’s son, Christopher Lee Willingham, also a reporter for the newspaper, sued Clardy, Manning and the commissioners in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Oklahoma, seeking unspecified damages. He claimed he was being punished for his hard-hitting reporting by spreading “slander” about him.
When Willingham pulled out the device, he discovered that the conversation had started with an ominous conversation about a fire victim being compared to a “barbecue” before the group moved on to talking about his son and hiring mob hitmen in Louisiana to kill him. take out.
Perhaps the most explosive part of the tape came when the conversation turned to who might run against Clardy in the upcoming election, and Jennings recalled how a former sheriff “would pick up a damn black guy, beat his ass, and throw him in the cell,” reports a newspaper.
“Yes,” Clardy replied, according to the paper. “That’s not the case anymore.”
“I know,” Jennings said. “Take them to Mud Creek and hang them with a goddamn rope. But you can’t do that anymore. They have more rights than us.”