All sheriffs are bad, too

They’re just cops in cowboy hats, you know. Anyway, a small town newspaper in Oklahoma left a recording device in a meeting room when various county officials had a meeting. He “wanted to prove that officials were discussing county business after the meeting had ended in violation of the state’s open-meeting law.” He got a bit more than he expected.

A small newspaper in rural Oklahoma secretly recorded what it said was an illegal public meeting where a county official talked about hanging Black people and several officials spoke of hiring hit men and digging holes for two of the newspaper’s reporters.

Them good ol’ boys were having a grand time chatting about all the crimes they wanted to commit: killing troublesome reporters, hanging black folk, all the stuff we usually just imagine rotten county officials talking about in back room meetings. They do!

Jennings: It’s like somebody wanting this job, they don’t realize, like your job. I heard it the other day, said I heard 2 or 12 people were going for sheriff. I said fuck, lets get 20. They don’t have a goddamn clue what they’re getting into. Not this day and age. I’m gonna tell you something. If it was back in the day, when that when Alan Marshton would take a damn black guy and whoop their ass and throw him in the cell? I’d run for fucking sheriff.

Sheriff: Yeah. Well, It’s not like that nomore.

Jennings: I know. 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.

It’s no fair, nowadays Black people have the right to not be hanged. Makes a fella pine for the good ol’ days.

You know, these kinds of attitudes don’t just spring up out of nowhere. It says the leading citizens of that Oklahoma town have a culture that accepts casual racism and that wallows in their privilege. Fire the lot of them.

Their defense is now that it was illegal to record their conversation. They said the things, you just weren’t supposed to hear them.

At least it’s reassuring that real brave journalism still exists in small pockets around the country.


  1. says

    From what I’ve seen, I have reason to believe sheriffs are even worse. The position invites corruption with its utter lack of accountability. I recently heard about “sovereign sheriffs” who invoke the legal sorcery of sovereign citizens to argue their interpretation of the law outranks that of the Supreme Court: From what I gathered, they claim they inherit the level of authority of shire reeves from the olden days because “sheriff” is derived from the term.

    Given the common religious component in a lot of these vile individuals, I’m sure they’ll claim the divine right of kings, too.

  2. microraptor says

    I have a friend who’s a fire fighter and a member of a Native American tribe. Last summer, he and his crew took their fire truck over to Oklahoma to help fight fires there.

    He said that he’s experienced plenty or racism all his life, but he’s never experienced anything as bad as he did there. One notable incident was when they stopped in a small town to get gas, the sheriff drove into the gas station and told them that “we don’t serve your kind here, [racial slur I’m not going to repeat], go back to the casino.” And then chased them out of town.

  3. dbinmn says

    Common things heard in my small town: “You think you better than me?” “It’s reverse racism!” “They got more rights than we got!” “You don’t need to go to school to learn important things.” “You gotta a lot of book learning, but you don’t have no street smarts.”

  4. asclepias says

    They might make that argument, but there’s no guarantee it will hold up. According to Rachel Maddow, the editor had serious talks with the city attorney to make sure everything he was doing was above board.

  5. says

    Yep, this is an example of the citizen militias the gun nuts are talking about, protecting our libbidy against tyrannical overreach from Washington.

  6. says

    It’s worth remembering (especially for the cognitive dissonance!) that the office of “sheriff” began as an earl’s chief tax collector in England. That’s who the Sheriff of Nottingham who opposed Robin Hood was. (Robin Hood was a tax protester more than anything else.) And given that since time immemorial “tax collection” has largely meant going after those with little or no ability to influence tax policy to pay for things that disproportionately benefit somebody else who does have that ability, I’d say that the modern law-enforcement-oriented sheriffs are just continuing the same mindset.

  7. billseymour says

    I don’t disagree with the point of the main post, but there’s an interesting anomaly near where I live:  St. Louis is not part of St. Louis County, but is a county in its own right.  The City of St. Louis has a police department, and the County of the City of St. Louis (its official name) has a sheriff.  That sheriff’s deputies don’t do law enforcement; they’re process servers and security guards at various city facilities, and they provide transportation of folks who are in custody from one facility to another.  Many of them are unarmed.

  8. antigone10 says


    Common things heard in my small town: “You think you better than me?”

    I mean, yes. I don’t use racist slurs.

  9. wzrd1 says

    “You think you better than me?”
    “Not at all. I know that I’m better and badder. Do you have any more stupid questions to ask before your life ends?”
    Me doing diplomacy. They’re already itching for a fight, so dial it up to 20 on a scale of 1 – 10, watch them depart quickly. Only had a scuffle once, that idiot learned that I fight extremely dirty and diligently.

  10. says

    I understand the history of why sheriffs came into existence, but why do they still exist? Where I live, I see nothing but waste and inefficiency. First, we have state police. They have jurisdiction anywhere in the state. Then, every city and most immediately surrounding villages and towns have their police, with jurisdiction within their respective borders. In between, we have the county sheriffs who have jurisdiction in their respective counties. OK, the more urbanized areas, where most people live, have their own police, and that makes sense. Outlying areas with low population density are covered by the state police. What, exactly, do the sheriffs add? It just seems to me to be an unnecessary overlap. We can increase the state police a bit and get rid of the county sheriffs, and coverage doesn’t change. There are 60-odd counties in NY state, and I’d guess there are 60-odd little fiefdoms of power that we can do without.

    And I’m sure that all of the “small government” conservatives would join in on this idea…not.

  11. Akira MacKenzie says

    “You think you better than me?”

    Compared to you? Fuck yes!!! I’m better, smarter, more virtuous, and my parents aren’t related. Now do what we fucking tell you, shitkicker!

  12. says

    “You think you better than me?”

    Yes. I was honorably discharged after completing several terms of military service. [looks down over the top of the glasses] Do you want to try that statement one more time, son?

    When I challenge these sleazebuckets to show me their VA cards, I haven’t had one do so yet… out of at least a hundred.

  13. weylguy says

    Come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing too many good or bad minorities in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen comics back in the days when I was into that stuff, just a lot of bad white guys like Rocks Saxon.

  14. anat says

    jimf @10: My suburban city contracts with the county sheriff’s office for policing services. Many other suburbs do the same. So in each of these cities policing is actually provided by the sheriff’s office, but specific officers are assigned to each of the cities.

  15. silvrhalide says

    At least it’s reassuring that real brave journalism still exists in small pockets around the country.

    Actual journalism (as opposed to hairsprayed babble) exists in a lot of places. Usually, it just gets choked off at the editorial level.
    Ask me how I know.

  16. says

    anat @ 14
    OK, but if they’re contracting, couldn’t they contract with the state police?

    I should be clear that I am referring to what I see happening in upstate NY. There may be other things/arrangements in other states.

  17. silvrhalide says

    @17, 10 As I understand it, state police enforce state laws, local police (and sheriffs) enforce local (county, town, village) laws. When a municipality contracts with a sheriff’s department, basically they are authorizing the sheriff’s department to enforce the local municipality’s laws in addition to their other duties.

    That said, you aren’t wrong about the multitude of little fiefdoms.
    And sheriff’s offices mostly serve eviction notices, serve warrants, etc. so no, there is really nothing that they do that can’t otherwise be handled by process servers. At a tremendous savings to the taxpayers, since some of these bloated assholes make half a million a year or more base salary. As I understand it, the local police do the actual policing but any attendant paperwork and process serving from the local police departments gets handled by the sheriff’s office (mostly by deputies).
    Or not.
    I basically had to harass and shame both the local cops AND the sheriff’s department to serve my abuser with his bench warrant for his arrest (for blowing off his court date). Those lazy motherfuckers have more excuses than the kid whose dog ate his homework to NOT serve the warrant even after being called 3X (abuser moved out of state but was back in state for the holidays).

    Another reason sheriff’s departments get contracted to do actual policing is because a lot of incorporated villages and the like are too small and have too small a tax base (or else don’t feel like funding their own municipal services) and theoretically pay a surcharge or additional municipality tax for municipal services (police, fire, electricity, cable, water, etc) from a larger municipality. I say theoretically because a large number of incorporated villages (which are frequently incorporated to prevent their kids from going to school with the plebes or POC, or both or because they have a large business or tax base and don’t feel like sharing with the poorer sections of what would otherwise be their municipality) don’t actually pay their taxes to the larger municipality but continue to leech municipal services anyway. My feeling on the nonpayment of taxes for contracted services is “you have 3 years to pay the past due taxes along with the current taxes or else you are no longer an incorporated village/town/district” but so far no one wants to be the one to pull the trigger on rich, entitled assholes. I mention this because a very exclusive nearby hamlet has not paid their surcharge taxes because one of their elected officials embezzled millions from said hamlet and didn’t pay the taxes and now the hamlet is whining about how they can’t afford to pay (bullshit, there are multimillionaires living there) but somehow are still entitled to services that they rest of us pay taxes for. Keep in mind that this went on for years and the hamlet never chased the embezzler down and STILL doesn’t pay for contracted municipal services.

  18. billseymour says

    After I wrote comment 7 about the County of the City of St. Louis, I was curious about St. Louis County where I live.  We have a county police department that does the law enforcement, but I wondered whether we also have a sheriff.

    Yes, we do.  The Sheriff’s Office is a department of the St. Louis County Circuit Court and provides courtroom bailiffs and process servers.

    So in both St. Louis and St. Louis County, sheriff’s deputies might be bad guys privately (as any person might be), but their official jobs don’t really give them a reason to act on that if it’s true.

    I’m not sure why this matters; I just thought it was interesting.

  19. EigenSprocketUK says

    Wow. The comments here seem like the much-fabled lawless Wild West begins at Maine….

  20. Kagehi says

    Back when my brother worked as a Deputy Sheriff and an election was coming up the Sheriff, whose name was something like Dorsey, one judge AND his opponent all managed to get indicted on charges of everything from death threats, to abuse of power, to bribery, etc. The opponent was trying to use threats and bribery to get Dorsey to drop out, while Dorsey was using his very comfortable ties to the judge, bribery, threats, and false arrest, to harass his opponent’s family members and friends. Not long after that my brother ended up working for Mammoth Ski Resort, with my dad, and only involved himself with the Sheriff department after when doing search and rescue.

    Oh, and this was a same little town where a big drug bust happened, in a laundry mat, due to some old lady’s washing machine breaking, and her walking in on “teens” screwing each other on the machines, and snorting drugs. Where was this laundry mat? Less than a block away, on the same, but opposite side, of the street from the actual police station, and less than 3 blocks from the high school.

    Its only year after I left California that I have come to realize that the fact that the only local radio was “country”, wasn’t the only sign that their was a bit too much “conservative” in the little town of Bishop…

  21. says

    @20 That’s a bit off; it’s the Wild West Hemisphere, it certainly “begins” by the time one hits Nova Scotia.

    Two points of confusion:

    Sheriffs’ deputies enforce state, county, and as contracted (yes, there are formal contracts between communities with no local police force and county sheriffs) local ordinances. They don’t make a distinction. In most states, state police do all of that except the local ordinances. The primary stated role of the state police forces varies from state to state, but they have jurisdiction to enforce any law “of the State” — the key distinction being that technically for criminal-law purposes, local ordinances are merely ordinances in most states and can’t rise above the level of a misdemeanor for penalties. In short, if that Statie or sheriff’s deputy sees you setting up a lemonade stand in the city park without a permit, they can haul you in; they just often have Bigger and Better Things on Their Minds (unless you’re already a target for another reason).

    One of the major problems is that “the Sheriff” (the ones who frequently have an exhorbitant salary) is usually an elected official. That’s one of the reasons it was so hard to deal with Arpaio — so long as he could continue to convince elderly white retirees in Maricopa County (that is, registered voters) that he was the right guy, in an electoral system biased against those upon whom he inflicted his particular bigotry,† to “protect them.” What that says about other counties whose Sheriffs either don’t get in the news outside their counties (much) is left as an exercise for those who have greater trust in entrenched party politics than I do. The point is that this is utterly distinct from the ability to fire a chief of police who is Doing Wrong in a way that brings actual consequences to a community; just compare the number of police chiefs in Chicago versus the number of Cook County Sheriffs since 1995.

    † It would have been interesting indeed to delve into the legitimacy of his own family’s immigration records and history… from Sicily, at a time of severe distrust of new Italian immigrants…

  22. ardipithecus says

    The County Commissioner, Jennings, has resigned. The OK Sherrif’s Association has suspended the rest, but apparently not by the necks down at Mud Creek. Investigations are pending, even of the bigots, not just the journalist.

    What assurances are there that the next batch won’t have the same flavour?

  23. Akira MacKenzie says


    What assurances are there that the next batch won’t have the same flavour?

    Look, they said they’re remove these cops, they didn’t say they’d replace them with better people!

  24. wzrd1 says

    Jaws @12, I go one higher. I say the same, while slapping my military retiree and VA card down in front of them.

  25. says


    A matter of style, I suppose. I find it more effective to shame them into (not) making the first move… plus if they did that would get their hands away from any weapon and put them physically a bit off-balance. But then, I no longer have a Captain America physique (as if I ever did)!

    Now if this was in the midst of an argument in a bar, I’d go for slapping stuff on the table. However, it’s usually in a parking lot, though, while these yobbos are trying to harass some family that Doesn’t Look Like Them. It’s a serious issue around here — grocery-store, pharmacy, and health-care facility parking lots seem to be the main rallying points for neoK^3. Oh, and the ballot/ballot-dropoff sites, given the way That Party set up its slate last fall.

  26. wzrd1 says

    @26, well, I do walk with a cane, which in and of itself is a formidable weapon.
    If excessively hard pressed, which isn’t likely, well, we’re close and they’d learn to not bring a gun to a knife fight.
    Especially against someone who consists entirely of knees and elbows.