A review of McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy’s remarks and those of others to county commissioners recently about a plane that the sheriff is getting from the LESO program shows several mistakes or fibs.
The sheriff’s department is in the process of getting a 1966 Beechcraft through the Law Enforcement Support Office, an arm of the Department of Defense.
Commissioners naturally have some concerns about costs and liability, especially since the sheriff said he wants the plane for use in transferring inmates.
The sheriff told commissioners such use is very common by sheriff’s departments all over the country. Even using assistance from Artificial Intelligence programs, the newspaper has been unable to find a single county in the nation, with a similar population to McCurtain County, that transfers inmates with a sheriff’s office own plane.
(Readers are invited to make such a search themselves, and please let us know if they find one so we may contact them).
So what about in Oklahoma?
“I don’t know of any sheriff’s office in Oklahoma that has a plane,” said Ray McNair, executive director of the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association.
But the sheriff suggested to commissioners Oklahoma County has such a plane and transports inmates all the time.
Not the case.
Aaron Brilback, public information for the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office, said the sheriff’s office there doesn’t have its own plane.
The office does transport some inmates by air, but when it does, the transports are made on commercial airlines.
What about a hangar for the plane? “Where would we store this plane?” asked commissioner John Williams.
He was told the sheriff’s office has a spot for the plane at the Idabel airport.
But Idabel Mayor Craig Young says the airport does not have a hangar reserved for the plane, and he doesn’t believe it even has an available hangar large enough for the twin-engine Beechcraft.
The sheriff also said during the meeting that the pilot for the plane doesn’t even have to be licensed.
He is apparently referring to the plane coming from the Department of Defense, and military aircraft aren’t subject to FAA oversight as they are governed by the military’s own aviation authority.
However, when planes are used for non-military purposes as this sheriff’s department intends to do, they are indeed subject to FAA oversight, and do indeed require a licensed pilot. Aviation insurance policies won’t cover planes that aren’t piloted by a licensed pilot.
Concerning insurance, the $5,000 insurance coverage the sheriff’s office got on the plane seemed very low for the transport of inmates, so the newspaper contacted Mary Anna Norton, an agent for Ladd Gardner Aviation Insurance Agency, the firm where the sheriff’s department got an insurance policy.
She said nothing had been mentioned about the transport of inmates with the plane, and she would have to check to see if the policy would cover that.
The sheriff was angered by the newspaper checking on the insurance, saying on Facebook, “It is blatantly obvious that certain individuals are continuing to try and discredit me and my office.”
To this day, there has been no discussion with commissioners about what the cost would be for insurance coverage that would include transportation of inmates, which some pilots have told the newspaper is enormously expensive.
Commissioner Williams said at the meeting that he wants to see the insurance policy, yet the insurance company told him the sheriff would have to release that despite the county, not the sheriff, paying for the insurance.
The insurance policy, like all paperwork on the plane being obtained by the county, is subject to the Open Records Act.
The sheriff has routinely violated that statute in the past.
Some law enforcement officers are questioning the sheriff’s saying it cost the department about $8,000 to pick up an inmate in Alabama versus about $1,500 that it would cost for the same trip by plane.
One law officer familiar with transports said unless the officers were eating steak at Ruth’s Chris every meal or something similar, there is no way the costs could approach $8,000.
This isn’t the first time strange actions have occurred that raised questions about integrity.
The sheriff’s son, Kyler, once tried to arrest a process server that was attempting to serve papers on one of the lawsuits facing the sheriff’s department/county.
Just recently, Erin Cristy, a 20-year-long reporter with KJRH TV (Channel 2) in Tulsa, revealed that Kyler Clardy had called her station, claiming to be a McCurtain Gazette employee.
Cristy immediately became suspicious because the Gazette has her personal cell number so why would its reporter call the TV station’s main office to reach her?
So where did the call originate?
From Clardy Cabin Construction LLC.
McNair, the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association, said he hopes people won’t think all sheriff’s departments are bad because of the bad behavior of one.
He said there are some tremendous sheriff’s departments in Southeast Oklahoma, and he specifically mentioned Atoka County and Bryan Count as being among them.
The sheriff’s association suspended the McCurtain County Sheriffs’ Office from its organization last year after release of an audio tape recording and remarks made by the sheriff, Alicia Manning and jail administrator Larry Hendrix.
McNair said many sheriff’s departments have indeed benefited from the LESO program, but some sheriff’s departments have learned that when it comes to aircraft, it may be financial feasible.
He said several years ago, sheriff’s departments were offered “Huey” helicopters through the program.
But those in Oklahoma that accepted them soon learned that the operating costs, parts and maintenance costs far exceeded the costs of simply hiring a pilot and helicopter on those few occasions when search and rescue efforts are under way.
Former sheriff Johnny Tadlock was among those who considered the helicopters, but turned down the offer after studying it.
McNair said sheriff’s departments that did accept the helicopters later got rid of them.