Rural Missouri sheriff, 2 deputies arrested in kidnap plot

Rural Missouri sheriff, 2 deputies arrested in kidnap plot

A rural Missouri sheriff and two deputies are jailed and facing charges accusing them of helping a man in a parental kidnapping plot.

Officers with the Missouri State Highway Patrol on Thursday arrested Iron County Sheriff Jeff Burkett, deputies Matthew Cozad and Chase Bresnahan, and the father of the child, Donald Gaston. All four face multiple charges and were jailed Friday in neighboring Washington County.

Iron County has about 9,500 residents and sits 100 miles (161 kilometers) southwest of St. Louis.

Burkett's lawyer, Gabe Crocker, said the charges are politically motivated.

“This is small-town politics,” Crocker said. "This is the continuation of a long gestating effort to remove this sheriff from office."

Charging documents say that in February, Gaston, 62, sought to take his daughter after an argument with the child's mother. Among the accusations against Burkett: Prosecutors say he lied to a 911 dispatcher to report that the mother had kidnapped the girl, and falsely accused the woman of putting the child in danger. Ultimately, the girl remained with her mother.

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

All four men were charged with criminal street gang activity since the alleged crime was organized. Burkett, 46, also is charged with attempted kidnapping, being an accessory to stalking, 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 jailed on $400,000 cash-only bond.

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 eventually backed off, the posting said.

“It is no secret that Sheriff Burkett is an outsider to many of the current elected officials,” the posting stated.

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