Oklahoma county commissioner resigns after leak of audio discussing killing journalists, lynchings

McCurtain County Commissioner Mark Jennings has resigned Wednesday following the leak of controversial audio, the office of Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt says.

An Oklahoma county commissioner who allegedly was caught in leaked audio recordings making death threats against two local journalists and talking about lynching Black people has resigned from his position, the state’s governor says. 

The office of Gov. Kevin Stitt said Wednesday that it has received a handwritten resignation letter from McCurtain County Commissioner Mark Jennings, who said he is leaving his post immediately and planned to release a formal statement “in the near future regarding the recent events in our county,” according to The Associated Press. 

The development came as the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said it launched its own investigation into the matter at the request of the Republican governor. 

The McCurtain Gazette-News released portions of an audio recording following a March 6 county commission meeting, in which Jennings, McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy and Sheriff’s Capt. Alicia Manning appear to discuss reporters Bruce and Chris Willingham. Jennings could be heard telling Clardy and Manning, “I know where two deep holes are dug if you ever need them,” and the sheriff responds, “I’ve got an excavator.” 


McCurtain County protesters hold 'resign now' sign

People from Idabel, Oklahoma., call for the resignation of several McCurtain County officials at a county commissioners meeting on Monday, April 17, 2023. (Christopher Bryan/Southwest Ledger via AP)

Jennings also said he’s known “two or three hit men” in Louisiana, adding, “They’re very quiet guys.” 

In the recording, Jennings also appears to complain about being unable to hang Black people, saying, “They got more rights than we got.” 

The Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association told News9 that it has suspended all three individuals in the recordings following an emergency meeting. 

The McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office, however,said on Facebook Monday that “[m]any of these recordings, like the one published by media outlets on Friday, have yet to be duly authenticated or validated.”

“Our preliminary information indicates that the media released audio recording has, in fact, been altered,” the sheriff’s office said. “The motivation for doing so remains unclear at this point. That matter is actively being investigated.” 

“In addition to being illegally obtained, the audio does not match the ‘transcription’ of that audio, and is not precisely consistent with what has been put into print,” the statement continued. 


McCurtain County protesters

McCurtain County residents hold a protest in Idabel on Monday, April 17, after the comments surfaced over the weekend. (Christopher Bryan/Southwest Ledger via AP)

Stitt announced Sunday that he was seeking the resignations of Clardy, Manning, Jennings and Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix – another person reported to be in the recordings. 

“I am both appalled and disheartened to hear of the horrid comments made by officials in McCurtain County,” Stitt said in a statement. “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.” 

KWTV-DT reported that the FBI launched an investigation into McCurtain County regarding the released recordings.  

Bruce Willingham, the longtime publisher of the McCurtain Gazette-News, said the recording was made on March 6 when he left a voice-activated recorder inside the room after a county commissioners meeting because he suspected the group was continuing to conduct county business after the meeting had ended – in violation of the state’s Open Meeting Act. Chris Willingham, a reporter at the paper, is Bruce Willingham’s son. 

McCurtain County residents confront officials over leaked audio

Idabel Mayor Crain Young, seated right, speaks at the McCurtain County Commissioners meeting in Idabel, Oklahoma, on Monday, April 17. (Christopher Bryan/Southwest Ledger via AP)


“I talked on two different occasions to our attorneys to make sure I wasn’t doing anything illegal,” Bruce Willingham said. 

More than 100 people gathered outside the McCurtain County Courthouse in Idabel on Monday, with many of them calling for the sheriff and other county officials to resign. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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