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‘You Can’t Do That Anymore’: Oklahoma County Official Caught on Audio Fantasizing About Hanging Black People Resigns After Pressure from Governor

The Oklahoma governor’s office has confirmed the recent resignation of a McCurtain County commissioner after he was captured allegedly engaged in racist conversations on an audio recording.

Mark Jennings’ handwritten note excusing him from the office said he would be leaving the post “immediately” on Wednesday, April 19, days after Gov. Kevin J. Stitt called for Jennings to resign from the position of county commissioner.

Oklahoma County Officials caught making racist remarks
McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy, Deputy Alicia Manning, and District 2 County Commissioner Mark Jennings (Photo: @saintamourmi/Twitter)

The audio was leaked over the weekend by the McCurtain Gazette-News but was recorded over a month ago after the March 6 Board of County Commissioners meeting.

In the audio, the District 2 commissioner said he would not run for sheriff unless time regressed to when a former sheriff could “take a damn Black guy … whup their ass and throw him in the cell.” He said wanted society to recognize lynching as an appropriate form of punishment, lamenting that the mandate to respect Black people’s civil rights is “out of hand” in the modern era.

“Take them down to Mud Creek and hang them up with a damn rope,” Jennings said he longed to do. “But you can’t do that anymore. They got more rights than we got.”

The recording allegedly captures Jennings and other high-profile public officials making derogatory jokes about Black people, advocating for lynching to return and the murder of two journalists.

“Effective immediately, I, Mark Jennings do hereby resign as McCurtain County District #2 commissioner. I will release a formal statement in the near future regarding the recent events in our county,” he wrote on white-lined notebook paper, according to the Oklahoman.

The newspaper reported that Chris Willingham released the recording after filing a defamation lawsuit against the sheriff’s office, Manning and the Board of County Commissioners, claiming his civil rights were violated by the employees of the law enforcement agency and county elected officials.

A statement from the McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office said an investigation into the recording is underway because the officials’ civil rights have been violated based on the Oklahoma Security of Communications Act.

According to that law, 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.”

It also notes the audio has 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,” the sheriff’s office said.

On the recording, the following voices are allegedly heard: Sheriff Kevin Clardy, investigator Alicia Manning, District 2 Commissioner Mark Jennings, District 3 Commissioner Robert Beck, the sheriff’s investigator Alicia Manning, jail administrator Larry Hendrix and the commissioners’ secretary Heather Carter.

Stitt said he was “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,” he continued.

The governor also said he would “not stand idly by” and not do anything and called for not only Jennings to resign but also Clardy, Manning and Hendrix.

On Tuesday, April 18, the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association voted to suspend the membership of the three aforementioned.

The owners of the Gazette, Willingham and his father, Bruce Willingham, were encouraged to leave town after the controversy broke.

In a statement from the family’s attorneys, he said, “For nearly a year, they have suffered intimidation, ridicule, and harassment based solely on their efforts to report the news for McCurtain County.”

FBI spokesperson Kayla McCleery would not confirm or deny if the agency is involved in the investigation. However, according to the Oklahoma attorney general’s communication director Phil Bacharach, the office is actively investigating.

Jennings, a Republican who took the office of the commissioner on Jan. 4, 2021, is the owner of a local logging equipment company.

The 59-year-old will continue to run his business in lieu of his resignation.

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