Rural Missouri sheriff, 2 deputies arrested in kidnapping plot

A rural Missouri sheriff and two deputies are jailed and charged with aiding a man in a parental kidnapping plot.

On Thursday, Missouri State Highway Patrol officers arrested Iron County Sheriff Jeff Burkett, Deputies Matthew Cozad and Chase Bresnahan, and the child’s father, Donald Gaston. All four face multiple charges and were jailed in neighboring Washington County on Friday.

Iron County has a population of approximately 9,500 and is located 161 kilometers southwest of St. Louis.

Burkett’s attorney, Gabe Crocker, said the charges were politically motivated.

“It’s small town politics,” Crocker said. “This is the continuation of a long gestation effort to remove this sheriff from office.”

Charging documents say that in February Gaston, 62, sought to take his daughter away after an argument with the child’s mother. Among the charges against Burkett: Prosecutors say he lied to a 911 dispatcher to report that the mother kidnapped the girl and falsely accused the woman of endangering the child. In the end, the girl stayed with her mother.

The sheriff and deputies are also accused of tracking the woman’s whereabouts through her cell phone.

All four men have been charged with criminal street gang activity since the alleged crime was organized. Burkett, 46, is also charged with attempted kidnapping, complicity in harassment and other crimes.

Gaston’s alleged crimes include stalking and attempted parental kidnapping. Gaston, Cozad and Bresnahan do not yet have attorneys, according to Missouri’s online court reporting system.

Burkett is jailed on $500,000 cash-only bond. The other suspects are being held on bail of $400,000 cash only.

Burkett, a Republican, was elected sheriff in 2020 and previously worked as a deputy. Last year, he was hospitalized for nearly four months with COVID-19, including spending time on a ventilator, according to the department’s Facebook page. While he was hospitalized, county officials sought to remove him from office but ultimately backed down, according to the message.

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

Burkett was briefly hospitalized on March 10 due to “continuing symptoms and complications” of COVID-19, the Facebook page says. The mugshot taken after his arrest shows him wearing an oxygen line through his nose.


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