Widow sues Oklahoma sheriff who discussed killing reporters
Apr 20, 2023, 10:05 AM
IDABEL, Oklahoma (AP) — The widow of an Oklahoma man who died following a 2022 arrest filed a lawsuit Thursday against the rural sheriff who a newspaper says it caught on tape talking about killing journalists who were reporting on her husband’s death.
Last March, outside the rural area of McCurtain County, Bobby Barrick’s death drew scant attention. The 45-year-old had died in a hospital days after deputies shocked him with a stun gun.
But the wrongful death lawsuit Barbara Barrick filed in federal court Thursday has drawn national attention to the county, more than 230 miles (370 kilometers) southeast of Oklahoma City near the Texas and Arkansas state lines, as a recording was published with local officials discussing killing journalists and lynching Black people.
“It’s been a hard year not knowing what happened to my husband,” Barbara Barrick said during a Thursday news conference in front of the sheriff’s office. She praised the “persistent and brave” efforts of local newspaper reporters to find out more about her husband’s arrest and death.
The McCurtain Gazette-News reported on the recordings and published parts of the audio in its weekend edition, revealing County Commissioner Mark Jennings, Sheriff Kevin Clardy and deputies seem to discuss killing reporters with the paper and lynching Black people.
The officials have not publicly addressed the content of the recordings, which prompted calls for their resignations, including from Gov. Kevin Stitt.
The March 6 comments were captured after the paper’s publisher, Bruce Willingham, says he left a recorder inside the room after a county commissioner’s meeting because he suspected the group was continuing county business after the meeting ended, in violation of the state’s Open Meeting Act. They included discussion of “two or three hit men.”
Willingham said he believed the officials were upset by “stories we’ve run that cast the sheriff’s office in an unfavorable light,” including coverage of Bobby Barrick’s death. The newspaper sued the sheriff’s office seeking body camera footage and other records connected to the fatal arrest.
Barbara Barrick alleged in a lawsuit that Clardy, three deputies and a state game warden violated her husband’s constitutional right and used excessive force during his arrest. The suit says the deputies found her husband “hog tied” on the ground outside a convenience store, where he’d been beaten by a crowd.
The deputies then handcuffed, beat and shocked Bobby Barrick, according to the suit, and deactivated their body cameras
The Gazette-News, a small newspaper with limited online presence, sued the sheriff’s office last month, seeking body camera footage and other records of the arrest. On Thursday, the newspaper released the full recording of the meeting where officials threaten its reporters.
On Wednesday, Jennings resigned, according to Gov. Stitt’s office. The day before, the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association voted unanimously to suspend Clardy and two of his deputies.
In a post on the sheriff’s office Facebook page on Tuesday, officials did not address the recorded conversation but claimed the recording was illegally obtained. Willingham said he twice spoke with his attorneys to be sure he wasn’t doing anything illegal in making the recording. None of the officials on the recording have responded to telephone calls or emails from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Bleiberg reported from Dallas.