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Missouri sheriff, 2 deputies charged with conspiracy to kidnap child


A Missouri sheriff and two deputies are accused of participating in a scheme to help a man kidnap his child.

Iron County Sheriff Jeff Burkett, Deputies Matthew Cozad and Chase Bresnahan, and the girl’s father Donald Gaston were arrested Thursday, court records show.

All four were charged with conspiracy and participating in group criminal activity under a state “street gang” law, in addition to other individual charges, according to the charging documents.

Sheriff Jeff Burkett.
Sheriff Jeff Burkett.Iron County Sheriff’s Office via Facebook

Burkett’s attorney, Gabe Crocker, told NBC affiliate KSDK of St. Louis that the case was part of a history of politically motivated attempts to remove him from elected office.

“They’ve been trying to get rid of him since he won the 2020 Republican sheriff’s primary in Iron County in 2020,” Crocker told the station.

Crocker did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment.

Court records did not mention attorneys for Gaston, Cozad and Bresnahan.

The case originated in nearby Washington County, where Sheriff Zach Jacobsen said someone called his department to report that Iron County Sheriff’s officials allegedly abused their police powers, he told KSDK.

The charging documents allege that Burkett, Cozad and Bresnahan were part of a conspiracy to help Gaston kidnap his daughter after he had an argument with the child’s mother.

The documents include allegations that Burkett used 911 to falsely report that the mother kidnapped the girl, and also allegedly accused the woman of child endangerment without any evidence.

The girl was unharmed, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

In addition to the other charges, Burkett, Cozad, and Bresnahan were charged with 911 abuse; Gaston was charged with attempted parental kidnapping and criminal harassment; and Bresnahan was charged with obtaining a criminal record under a false pretense, according to the documents.

On March 10, the Iron County Sheriff’s Office posted a statement on its Facebook page regarding Burkett’s health, saying he had an ongoing battle with Covid-19 and needed to be hospitalized. He was released that day, according to the statement.

The statement blamed county leaders for budget cuts that led to fewer MPs on patrol. He also accused some members of the region’s political establishment of trying to oust the sheriff as he spent months in a hospital last year battling Covid-19.

“It’s no secret that Sheriff Burkett is an outsider to many current elected officials,” the post said.

Burkett was jailed in lieu of $500,000 bond; the other suspects were jailed in lieu of $400,000 bond. A hearing was scheduled for Wednesday to ask a judge to reconsider those amounts, according to court records.

Iron County has a population of approximately 9,400 and is approximately 95 miles southwest of St. Louis.

The Associated Press contributed.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.