MCSO claims recording was illegal, altered
By Larry Stovall
The McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement via social media on Tuesday claiming that recordings released by the McCurtain Gazette-News had been made illegally and had been altered, but made no comments on the content of the recordings which allegedly include racist statements by county officials and discussion of killing Gazette-News reporters.
The recordings took place after Gazette-News publisher Bruce Willingham left a voice-activated recorder in the county commissioners’ meeting room on March 6.
Willingham had left the device in the room due to suspicions that commissioners were continuing to discuss county business with people not on the agenda, which would be a violation of the Oklahoma Meeting Act.
The recorded conversation involved comments from Sheriff Kevin Clardy, MCSO Captain Alicia Manning, District 2 County Commissioner Mark Jennings and McCurtain County Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix that allegedly included the killing of Willingham and his son Chris (himself a Gazette reporter), with Clardy allegedly noting that he “owned an excavator” after Jennings said he already had “two deep holes dug”.
Jennings also allegedly stated that he was acquainted with two hitmen in Shreveport that would “cut no f—— mercy.”
Willingham has told multiple media agencies that he believes the comments were due to stories unfavorable to the sheriff’s office that have been published by the newspaper.
The Sheriff’s Office statement on Tuesday claimed that the recording violated the Oklahoma Security of Communications Act, Title 12, Chapters 176.3 and 176.4, which MCSO states says it is illegal to secretly record a conversation in which “you are not involved and do not have the consent of at least one of the involved parties.”
Willingham has stated that he consulted with attorneys prior to leaving the device in the meeting room and a third-party legal expert quoted by the Associated Press has said the recording could be made legally.
Joey Senat, a journalism professor at Oklahoma State University, said under Oklahoma law, the recordings would be legal if obtained where the officials being recorded did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, according to AP.
The recordings were made in the room where the county commissioners meet on Monday morning and, allegedly, took place during what was still a public meeting.
MCSO’s statement also said that “large number of threats of violence including death threats have been made against county employees and officials, their families and friends” and alleged that the recordings had been altered.
Missing from the MCSO’s statement on Tuesday were any acknowledgements of the comments made by Clardy, Jennings, or others in the recordings, a lack noted frequently by county residents on multiple social media platforms.
As of noon today, only District 2 County Commissioner Mark Jennings had resigned despite calls from Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, State Representative Eddy Dempsey, Idabel Mayor Craig Young and others that they do so.
Stitt also called for an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation into the statements made in the audio.
Some of those agents were in Idabel on Tuesday, questioning witnesses.
Bruce Willingham said the recording was provided to the attorney general’s office and to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about a month ago.
Willingham said he’s confident of those agencies’ technical expertise on recordings as well as their knowledge of the laws.
District Attorney Mark Matloff has also reviewed the way the recording was made, and says that no arrest warrant has been issued pertaining to it.