Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond said in a letter to the governor that state law doesn't allow elected officials to be ousted "merely for saying something offensive."
CNN  — 

An Oklahoma sheriff who allegedly participated in a secretly recorded conversation that included racist remarks about lynching Black people and comments about killing journalists will not face criminal charges and cannot be removed from office, the state’s attorney general announced Friday.

In a letter to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on Friday, the state’s Attorney General Gentner Drummond said his office completed an investigation and found “no evidence” that McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy committed any criminal act in the audio, which caused nationwide outrage. Drummond, a Republican, said state law doesn’t allow elected officials to be ousted “merely for saying something offensive.”

McCurtain County is in southeastern Oklahoma, about 200 miles from Oklahoma City.

In April, Stitt, who is also Republican, asked Gentner to conduct an investigation after the McCurtain Gazette-News newspaper published audio it said was recorded following a Board of Commissioners meeting on March 6.

The paper said the audio of the meeting was legally obtained, but the McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that it was illegally recorded and was investigating. The sheriff’s office also said it believed the recording had been altered.

“I am both appalled and disheartened to hear of the horrid comments made by officials in McCurtain County,” Stitt said in a statement in April. “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,” the statement said.

Stitt swiftly called on the four county officials allegedly heard speaking in the audio recording to resign, including Clardy, District 2 Commissioner Mark Jennings, sheriff’s investigator Alicia Manning and jail administrator Larry Hendrix.

Jennings announced in a handwritten letter in April that he was resigning “effective immediately” after the recording was published, CNN previously reported.

Audio came after local journalist filed lawsuit

The recording was made hours after Gazette-News reporter Chris Willingham filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office, Manning and the Board of County Commissioners, alleging they had defamed him and violated his civil rights, the newspaper reported.

According to a report by The Oklahoman on the audio, Jennings said, “Oh, you’re talking about you can’t control yourself?” and Manning replied: “Yeah, I ain’t worried about what he’s gonna do to me. I’m worried about what I might do to him. My papaw would have whipped his a**, would have wiped him and used him for toilet paper … if my daddy hadn’t been run over by a vehicle, he would have been down there.”

Jennings replied that his father was once upset by something the newspaper published and “started to go down there and just kill him,” according to the Gazette-News.

“I know where two big, deep holes are here if you ever need them,” Jennings allegedly said, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the reporter. Clardy allegedly responded by saying he had the equipment.

“I’ve got an excavator,” Clardy is accused of saying during the discussion. “Well, these are already pre-dug,” Jennings allegedly said.

In his response to the civil lawsuit, Clardy denied that he encouraged or tolerated retaliation against Willingham for his newspaper stories.

In other parts of the recording, officials expressed disappointment that Black people could no longer be lynched, according to The Oklahoman report.

CNN has not been able to verify the authenticity of the recording or confirm who said what.

In his letter to the governor – who unsuccessfully asked Clardy to resign voluntarily – Drummond wrote, “To the extent you remain committed to seeing Sheriff Clardy removed from office, I suggest you appeal to the men and women responsible for electing him.”

CNN has contacted Clardy’s attorney, Howard Morrow, for comment on the attorney general’s letter.

The Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association voted in April to suspend the membership of Clardy, Manning and Hendrix after the recording was released, the group’s executive director told CNN.

CNN’s Tina Burnside, Raja Razek and Rosa Flores contributed to this report.