Article 2: Dec. 2, 2021
More jail employees are fired; Hendrix eyed as administrator
By Chris Willingham
Second of a series
In a recent interview with the newspaper, sheriff Kevin Clardy addressed several allegations and rumors about the sheriff’s department.
In a Nov. 25 story, the Gazette covered a portion of those. Since that story, a jail trust special meeting was held Tuesday and following that meeting, two jail employees, both former sheriff’s employees, were immediately fired.
A jail trust meeting agenda and minutes from Tuesday shows the board went into executive session and following that, made motions to terminate jail employees Ken Jennings and Curtis Fields.
Both were fired Tuesday by undersheriff Larry Hendrix, who in phone calls to both Jennings and Fields, identified himself as “the appointed jail administrator” and told them they were both fired, with no grounds for termination given.
County Commissioner Jimmy Westbrook, who is a member of the jail trust, said Clardy appointed Hendrix as temporary jail administrator. A permanent administrator is expected to be hired next week.
Hendrix’s appointment was not on the agenda of Tuesday’s meeting as official business, but jail trust secretary Heather Carter said Clardy could make such an appointment legally, as outlined in the jail trust statutes.
This newspaper has done a thorough search of those statutes and cannot find any language indicating the sheriff alone can do that. The statutes say decisions must go through the entire board, of which the sheriff is chairman.
In the recent interview, when asked about the jail trust, the sheriff said, by state law, the jail trust only manages financial aspects of the jail, the sheriff does everything else.
“State law states the sheriff has full control of the jail and its employees. That’s state law, but the jail trust is over all financial aspects of the jail,” Clardy said.
“The jail trust is set up, in my opinion, not the way state law says it should be, but the way it went into effect by the vote of the people. The jail trust is over financial actions of the jail. It’s set up that way. Always has been since 1998 when it went into effect.”
Clardy is referring to a 1998 county ballot measure in which voters established the jail trust, for which funding began Jan. 1, 2000, under Title 19 public trusts in state statutes.
Title 19 O.S. 21C 904.3 states the jail trust board “shall manage and conduct the business and affairs and do any and all other things necessary and proper in the management and operation of the authority for the purpose of promoting the establishment.”
Before working at the jail, Jennings was undersheriff for Clardy, beginning when Clardy was first elected.
Clardy said he fired Jennings from the sheriff’s department in March for sexual harassment. Deputy Curtis Fields soon resigned and went to work for the jail.
Hendrix fired both men on Tuesday.
Hendrix was hired by the sheriff’s department as an investigator and later promoted to head of the Criminal Investigation Division and then undersheriff when Jennings was fired.
A new jail administrator will be appointed next week to replace the previous administrator Scott McLain, who resigned Nov. 24 when he was instructed by the jail board to fire jail secretary Jerre Gail Carrell, who had been at the jail for 26 years.
Carrell’s husband and maintenance employee of 17 years, Billy Ray Carrell, also resigned on the spot with McLain.
It appears Hendrix will be appointed as the new jail administrator.
Hendrix was hired as sheriff’s investigator in the county after leaving Choctaw County Sheriff’s Department, where he was undersheriff.
A comparison of cases filed by officers in the sheriff’s department CID shows Hendrix worked far less cases than other investigators while first as an investigator and then as head of CID.
From Jan 1, 2019 to Nov. 30, 2021, case filings by CID investigators were:
John Jones – 215 cases
Devin Black – 110 cases
Alicia Manning – 65 cases
Bruce Johnson – 57 cases
Larry Hendrix – 12 cases
Records show Hendrix worked nine cases in 2017, the year he was hired, and four in 2018, substantially less than any of his fellow investigators.
The previous sheriff’s department CID director, veteran county officer Billy Conaway, filed 88 cases in 2016 and 83 in 2015.
The sheriff’s department on Wednesday said Hendrix was still the undersheriff.