A Missouri sheriff and two deputies are accused of participating in a scheme to help a man kidnap his son.
Iron County Sheriff Jeff Burkett, Deputies Matthew Cozad and Chase Bresnahan, and the girl’s father, Donald Gaston, were arrested Thursday, according to court records.
All four have been charged with conspiracy and participation in group criminal activity under a state «street gang» statute, in addition to other individual charges, according to charging documents.
Burkett’s attorney, Gabe Crocker, told St. Louis NBC affiliate KSDK 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 Iron County Sheriff Republican primary,” Crocker told the station.
Crocker did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment.
Court records did not list attorneys for Gaston, Cozad and Bresnahan.
The case originated in neighboring Washington County, where Sheriff Zach Jacobsen said someone called his department to report that sheriff’s deputies in Iron County were allegedly abusing their police powers, he told KSDK.
The charging documents allege that Burkett, Cozad and Bresnahan were part of a plot to help Gaston kidnap his daughter after he got into a dispute with the girl’s mother.
The documents include allegations that Burkett used 911 to falsely report that the mother kidnapped the girl and also accused the woman of child endangerment without any evidence.
The girl was unharmed reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In addition to the other charges, Burkett, Cozad, and Bresnahan have all been charged with misusing 911; Gaston was charged with attempted kidnapping and parental harassment; and Bresnahan has been charged with obtaining a criminal record under a false pretense, according to the documents.
On March 10, the Iron County Sheriff’s Office released a statement on its Facebook page about Burkett’s health, saying he has had an ongoing battle with Covid-19 and had to be hospitalized. He was released that day, according to the statement.
The statement blamed county leaders for budget cuts that resulted in fewer officers on patrol. He also blamed some in the area’s political establishment for trying to oust the sheriff while he spent months in a hospital last year fighting covid-19.
“It’s no secret that Sheriff Burkett is a stranger to many of today’s elected officials,” the post said.
Burkett was jailed in lieu of $500,000 bail; the other suspects were jailed on $400,000 bail. 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 people and is located approximately 95 miles southwest of St. Louis.
The Associated Press contributed.