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Article 37
Stitt, NAACP seek probes; many ask for resignations

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on Sunday called for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to conduct as probe of county officials and what he felt were hate-filled remarks.

Both the governor and Idabel Mayor Craig Young called for the resignations of District 2 County Commissioner Mark Jennings, Sheriff Kevin Clardy, Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix and sheriff’s department Captain Alicia Manning.

State head of the NAACP, Anthony R. Douglas, on Monday called for a federal investigation.

Also on Monday, a crowd of a few hundred people gathered outside the McCurtain County Commissioners’ Office both before and during Monday’s regular commissioners’ meeting.

What sparked all this was a long audio that Gazette publisher Bruce Willingham gathered on March 6, then shared with the FBI and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office because it could contain evidence of criminal behavior by public officials.

On Saturday, the newspaper started a series of articles (Part 2 will appear Thursday because of all the news that has transpired since). The first article contained discussion by commissioners and sheriff’s department leaders of beating, killing and even burying reporters Chris Willingham and Bruce Willingham.

The article also contained crude and insensitive comments about the recent death of a woman in a house fire south of Garvin, and Jennings’ pining for old times when suspects could be beaten, even hanged.

Bruce Willingham said the audio was somewhat accidental.

He was hoping to prove that commissioners were holding illegal meetings with county officials, and to forward that information to the new attorney general.

Instead, his voice-activated recorder picked up incredible admissions by public officials, their criticisms of others, sexual discussion, etc. – the sort of things the public rarely hears from its officeholders.

However, the entire recording was made during a public meeting, even though officials didn’t know they were being recorded.

There was even a prayer before lunch that preceded the discussion of killing reporters.
Gov. Stitt was very direct about the audio.

“I am both appalled and disheartened to hear of the horrid comments made by officials in McCurtain County. 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. I will not stand idly by while this takes place,” Stitt said on Sunday when he called for the resignations.

By Sunday night, Twitter had more than 1.4 million hits about events in McCurtain County.

A crowd began gathering about 8:15 a.m. Monday outside the commissioners’ office, which was due to have its regular meeting at 9 a.m.

Many TV crews also filmed the peaceful protest.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol cut off the street so protesters could be in the street safely, and on rare occasions when someone got aggressive, people started saying, “No violence, no violence,” and things settled down.

Mayor Young had surgery on his ankle last week, and could only move with the use of a wheeled mobility device, but the crowd parted so that he could get into the commissioners’ office at 9. The crowd also allowed the media access to

get into the small commissioners’ office.

Young told commissioners he was a spokesman for the “group outside.”

“We’re here today to ask for elected officials who made those terrible statements and jokes about a lady being burned, we’re asking them to reassign. That’s what we’re here for today.”

Young noted the governor has also asked for resignations.

“We are waiting for results,” he said.

District 1 state Rep. Eddy Dempsey, R-Valliant, was also calling for the resignations on Monday.

“I honestly think they should resign,” Dempsey told the Oklahoman. “I mean, to this point, there’s no hearsay, no two words (about it); they were recorded, so it should be a resignation.”

District 2 Commissioner Mark Jennings did not attend Monday’s commissioners’ meeting.

By mid-day, none of the persons asked to resign had done so.

Protesters gathered near the McCurtain County Commissioners office on Monday morning calling for the resignation of District Two County Commissioner Mark Jennings, Sheriff Kevin Clardy, Sheriff’s investigator Alicia Manning and Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix after recordings from a recent commissioners meeting were made public by this newspaper in the weekend edition. Those recordings, which include discussions of killing Gazette reporters, are available online. (Staff photo by Taylor Skieens)