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McCurtain County community, Idabel mayor demand resignations of county officials

Posted at 2:59 PM, Apr 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-18 17:28:10-04

IDABEL, Okla. — Residents in McCurtain County are outraged after a newspaper article revealed alleged racist comments and threats of murder involving county officials.

The McCurtain Gazette newspaper published an audio recording they obtainedwhere the group is allegedly heard discussing a plot to kill the publisher and his son, as well as making racist comments condoning lynching and derogatory remarks about a woman who recently died in a house fire.

A large crowd gathered outside the McCurtain County Commissioners' office during their weekly meeting Monday. Many residents are echoing Governor Kevin Stitt’s resignation calls for Sheriff Kevin Clardy, MCSO Captain Alicia Manning, Larry Hendrix (jail administrator) and County Commissioner Mark Jennings. All were absent from today's meeting. 

“You know the saying about your hand getting caught in the cookie jar? They got caught,” said Glenda Austin, a lifelong resident.

Idabel Mayor Craig Young also requested resignations.

“I hate to know that this is 2023, and we still have folks who want to live in 1920s Al Capone lifestyle when you start talking about lunching killing and acting like human lives don’t matter,” said Young.

Aside from taking public comment, there was no discussion of the situation and stuck to scheduled business.

“There will be no more discussion if you guys want to sit around and watch us sign papers, by all means,” said John Williams, District One Commissioner.

The Oklahoma Attorney General confirms his office is investigating the situation.

The publisher of the McCurtain Gazette, Bruce Willingham, and reporter, Bruce’s son Chris, told me they have been advised to temporarily leave town. 

Chris Willingman has written at least 30 articles alleging corruption involving the McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office over the last few years.

Madison Peavy hopes this revelation will lead to authorities investigating more cases, including her missing father and mysterious death of her friend.

“I am thrilled this is coming to the surface finally. This has been a long time coming,” said Peavy.

The McCurtain County County Sheriff's Office released this statement on Monday evening on Facebook:

The last 72 hours have been amongst the most difficult and disruptive in recent memory. This is a very complex situation and one we regret having to address.

There is and has been an ongoing investigation into multiple, significant violation of the Oklahoma Security of Communications Act, Title 13, Chapters 176.3 and 176.4 which states that 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. There is a significant number of victims of this criminal activity and it has taken significant effort and time to identify them and corroborate evidence.

Many of these recordings, like the one published by media outlets on Friday, have yet to be duly authenticated or validated. Our preliminary information indicates that the media released audio recording has, in fact, been altered. The motivation for doing so remains unclear at this point. That matter is actively being investigated.

In addition to being illegally obtained, the audio does not match the “transcription” of that audio, and is not precisely consistent with what has been put into print.

Multiple agencies are assisting in this ongoing investigation.

As a result of the press release that went out on Friday, a large number of threats of violence including death threats have been made against county employees and officials, their families and friends.

There will be continued press releases from this agency as the investigation comes to a close and findings are forwarded to the appropriate authorities for felony charges to be filed on those involved.

2News reached out to the people involved in the recording. Only Hendrix picked up the phone and had no comment.

A second article is tentatively set to be published Thursday.

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