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Reporter files defamation lawsuit against McCurtain County officials

Posted at 5:33 PM, Apr 18, 2023

MCCURTAIN COUNTY, Okla. — There are new revelations in a story unfolding in McCurtain County where published stories and an audio recording allegedly reveal some county officials using racist language and discussing murdering a reporter after a county commissioners’ meeting.

McCurtain Gazette-News publisher, Bruce Willingham, claims he captured that audio.

“They initially started out talking about various people that might beat us or wanted to beat us, and then they got two big holes," Willingham said.

Now a federal lawsuit filed by Willingham’s son Christopher, a reporter for the paper, accuses the sheriff, a sheriff’s investigator, and county commissioners of defamation and retaliation.

His suit alleges he’s being retaliated against due to his eight part investigation into alleged problems at the McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office. Those stories were published over a span of two years.

Willingham’s suit, filed in the Eastern District of Oklahoma, alleges sherrif’s investigator Alicia Manning’s allegedly accused him of exchanging marijuana for pornographic videos of children, and falsely accused him of committing sexual crimes against children.

2 News has called and texted McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy multiple times Tuesday for a response to these allegations, but haven’t heard back.

Governor Kevin Stitt, among others, is requesting Clardy, Manning, jail administrator Larry Hendrix and county commissioner Mark Jennings resign after the stories and audio became public, but as of now, they’re still on the job.

The Willingham’s tell 2 News that full recording will be about three hours long and released on Thursday.

The McCurtain County Sheriffs Office says they are investigating potential communication violations of illegally recording conversations without consent.

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