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Allegations of racist comments, threats by county officials prompt calls for resignations

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(OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla.) — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has called for the resignation of several local officials following the release of a recording that allegedly captured comments he called “hateful rhetoric” that were made at a McCurtain County commissioners’ meeting.

“I am both appalled and disheartened to hear of the horrid comments made by officials in McCurtain County,” Stitt said in a statement. “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. I will not stand idly by while this takes place.”

According to the recording captured by McCurtain Gazette reporter Chris Willingham, county officials discussed plans to beat, kill and hide the bodies of local newspaper reporters, including Willingham.

Willingham is currently involved in a lawsuit against county investigator Alicia Manning, the McCurtain County Sheriff’s Department and the Board of County Commissioners in which he claims Manning defamed him and violated his civil rights, according to the McCurtain Gazette.

In Oklahoma, all meetings of public bodies must be open to its residents. However, according to the Gazette, after the public dispersed following a March 6 public meeting, officials continued to discuss county business not listed on the agenda.

According to Oklahoma law, consent to record is not required to record conversations in public where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. The newspaper said the recording is “legally obtained.”

“I know where two big deep holes are here if you ever need them,” said one official,, according to the Gazette. Another official responds: “I’ve got an excavator.”

“I’ve known two or three hit men, they’re very quiet guys,” said the official believed to be Jennings, according to local reports. “… And would cut no f—ing mercy.”

“If a hair on his wife’s head, Bruce Willingham’s head, or any of those people that really were behind all that, if any hair on their head got touched by anybody, who would be the bad guy?” said an official believed to be county investigator Alicia Manning.

Jennings can allegedly be heard also making racist comments in the recording, saying that “if it was back in the day” when officers “would take a damn Black guy and whoop their a– and throw him in the cell? I’d run for f—ing sheriff.”

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

The governor said he will be calling on the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations to look into “whether any illegal conduct has occurred.” The OSBI, however, told ABC News it has not yet received a request.

The state Office of the Attorney General is investigating, a spokesperson told ABC News.

Stitt called for the resignation of Manning, District 2 Commissioner Mark Jennings, McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy, who are allegedly heard in the recorded conversations, as well as Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix, who is said to have been present.

Residents have begun protesting outside of local government buildings to push for accountability regarding the comments.

Willingham, at the center of the alleged threats, told News9, he was “was completely appalled and frightened, quite frankly” upon hearing the recording.

ABC News has reached out to the Board of County Commissioners for comment.

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