Commissioner quits after being recorded talking about lynching Black people

The handwritten letter from McCurtain County Commissioner Mark Jennings comes two days after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt requested his resignation, along with those of three others.

An Oklahoma county commissioner has resigned after a local newspaper article detailed a secret recording in which he and three other officials discussed killing reporters and lynching Black residents.

A spokesperson for Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt confirmed that McCurtain County Commissioner Mark Jennings delivered a resignation letter to the governor on Wednesday. According to NBC News, the handwritten note comes two days after Stitt requested the resignations of Jennings, Sheriff Kevin Clardy, investigator Alicia Manning and jail administrator Larry Hendrix.

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

Oklahoma commissioner Mark Jennings
Mark Jennings (above) has resigned from his position as a McCurtain County commissioner following the revelation of a secret recording of him and three other officials in the Oklahoma county discussing killing reporters and lynching Black people. (Photo: Screenshot/ News 12)

Jennings, 59, reportedly talked about lynching on the recording from Bruce Willingham, a McCurtain County Gazette-News reporter. Willingham — acting on information that the officials were improperly conducting county business after public meetings — placed a recorder in the commissioners’ chamber on March 6.

In the recording, while discussing who could potentially run for sheriff against Clardy, Jennings recalled how a former sheriff “would take a damned Black guy and whoop their ass and throw them in the cell.”

Clardy acknowledges that, noting, “It’s not like that no more.”

“I know,” Jennings allegedly replied, according to NBC. “Take them down to Mud Creek, and hang them up with a damned rope. But you can’t do that anymore. They’ve got more rights than we’ve got.”

Since the Gazette-News article about the tape recording broke over the weekend, the three sheriff’s department officials, Clardy, Manning and Hendrix, have yet to respond or grant interviews.

The Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association suspended the trio Tuesday, though the suspension does not remove them from their jobs with the department.

On Monday, the sheriff’s office alleged that the recording was “illegally obtained,” seemed to have been manipulated and may have broken a state law that forbids third parties from making secret recordings.

Christin Jones of the Kilpatrick Townsend law firm, which is representing the Gazette-News, asserted that the tape wasn’t tampered with and that Willingham, whose family has owned the print publication for 40 years, broke no laws by producing it.

“It is an accurate recording,” Jones said via email, according to NBC, “and does not violate the Oklahoma Security of Communications Act.”

The law firm said the FBI and the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office have already received the complete recording, set to be shared with the public today.

Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation spokesman Gerald Davidson confirmed on Wednesday that the agency launched a probe into the matter at Stitt’s request.

State Sen. George Burns, a Republican who resides in McCurtain County, released a statement after Jennings resigned, saying that, like the governor, he called for the commissioner’s and Clardy’s resignations immediately after hearing the audio.

“When the words of public servants are so vile that they’re hurting the people they serve,” Burns said, NBC reported, “they should no longer hold those positions.”

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