The McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office has released a statement regarding the audio recordings that reveal the sheriff and others reportedly discussing killing two journalists, claiming the audio has been altered.
“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,” said the sheriff’s office in a statement released on social media.
The recording, captured by Gazette reporter Bruce Willingham and published in the weekend edition on April 15-16 , revealed the sheriff’s officials and commissioner discussing “beating, killing and burying Gazette reports Chris Willingham and Bruce Willingham” during a county commissioners meeting on Mar. 6, 2023.
Click here to read the full transcript of the recording. ( Reader discretion advised – audio and transcript contain talk of killing journalists and racism, incl. hanging Black people.)
Since the release of the audio, the agency said there has been a “large number of threats of violence including death threats made against county employees and officials, their families and friends.”
The sheriff’s office also stated that there is an ongoing investigation into multiple violations relating to secretly recording a the conversation.
“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.”
Willingham, the longtime publisher of the McCurtain Gazette News, told media that he left a voice-activated recorder inside the room after a county commissioner’s meeting because he suspected the group was continuing to conduct county business after the meeting had ended in violation of the state’s Open Meeting Act.
He also stated that he twice spoke with his attorneys to be sure he was doing nothing illegal.
On Monday, many local and state officials, including Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, called for the immediate resignation of Sheriff Kevin Clardy, Commissioner Mark Jennings, Investigator Alicia Manning and Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix.
The sheriff’s office in their statement said that not only was the audio “illegally obtained” but that “the audio does not match the ‘transcription’ of that audio, and is not precisely consistent with what has been put into print.”
The agency said it will continue to release information regarding the investigation as it comes to a close and that anything they find will be forwarded to the appropriate authorities for felony charges to be filed on those involved.
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