Oklahoma Commissioner Resigns After Getting Caught Discussing Attacking Black People

War Memorial Monument with State Capitol in the background, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by Independent Picture Service/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
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A county commissioner in Oklahoma has resigned after he was caught on tape alongside other local officials joking about killing local newspaper reporters and lynching Black people, the governor announced Wednesday.

A spokesperson for Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) told the AP on Wednesday that McCurtain County Commissioner Mark Jennings sent a handwritten resignation letter to his office. Jennings also reportedly plans to release a formal statement “in the near future regarding the recent events in our county.”

Jennings was one of a handful of local officials, including McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy, who were caught on tape joking about committing violent acts during a board meeting in early March. The county commissioner himself made comments lamenting that it wasn’t socially acceptable to attack Black people and joking about knowing where to bury the bodies of two local journalists.

“If it was back in the day, when Alan Marston would take a damned Black guy and whoop their ass and throw him in the cell? I’d run for fucking sheriff,” he said at one point.

The officials also complained about Bruce and Chris Willingham, a father-son journalist duo who run the local family-owned McCurtain Gazette-News. Bruce Willingham, the longtime publisher of the local paper, placed a voice-activated recording device in the room where the meeting was taking place based on a tip that commissioners were illegally conducting county business outside of the posted meeting times, which is a violation of state law. When he got the recording back, he found threats against his life instead.

The print-only paper released snippets of what they heard last week, and a follow-up article is reportedly being published on Thursday. The Willinghams have reportedly been advised to leave town.

On Monday, Clardy made a statement on his office’s Facebook page, where he claimed to be investigating “multiple, significant violation[s] of the Oklahoma Security of Communications Act,” which states that it’s illegal to record conversations without at least one participants’ consent. Clardy also claimed in his Facebook post that the recording had been altered but it is unclear what he means by that. 

Bruce Willingham has maintained  he’s confident they hadn’t broken the law.
“I talked on two different occasions to our attorneys to make sure I wasn’t doing anything illegal,” he told the AP earlier this week.

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