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Embattled Iron County Sheriff's attorney releases documents showing fight over surveillance footage was brewing

Sheriff Jeff Burkett was not allowing county officials to have access to surveillance footage at the courthouse, jail and sheriff's department

IRON COUNTY, Mo. — In the days leading up to an alleged parental kidnapping plot, court documents show the Iron County Sheriff was in a battle with his fellow county officials over something they really wanted: Access to audio and visual surveillance footage taken inside the courthouse, sheriff’s department and the jail.

Sheriff Jeffrey Burkett’s attorney Gabe Crocker released the documents Monday, saying they provide important context to the criminal charges his client, two deputies and a citizen are now facing.

“Sheriff Burkett was looking into some allegations, and, days later, he’s the one under investigation,” Crocker said, refusing to elaborate on those allegations.

Presiding Iron County Commissioner Jim Scaggs told 5 On Your Side Monday he could not discuss the surveillance camera issue because it is a matter of pending litigation. The county’s attorney, who also is its prosecutor, sued the sheriff on March 10 to get the footage.

Scaggs also said he could not comment on the criminal allegations against the sheriff or the others, saying they are from a different county.

Crocker is accusing Iron County officials of turning routine police work that was done to check the welfare of a child into a kidnapping scheme in neighboring Washington County.

“Just because something moves a county doesn't mean that the individuals that are in those positions don't have a connection to their neighbor,” Crocker said. “I think that this was an opportunity for individuals in positions of power to craft a story, push the case over to someone who would listen, pick and choose the facts that support their narrative, all in an effort to get him arrested,” Crocker said.

Scaggs said he and his fellow county officials do not have the power to sway the Missouri Highway Patrol or Washington County leaders.

“(Burkett’s attorney) can say whatever he wants, it’s a free country, but I have no information any of that was going on and neither did the other commissioners,” Scaggs said. “That is not in our jurisdiction.

“Whatever the issue is, that’s not who we are. I hope people will reserve judgment until it works its way through the justice system.”

Court documents Crocker released Monday include the March 10 lawsuit filed by Iron County Prosecutor Brian Parker.

Parker declined to comment to 5 On Your Side saying he was choosing to abide by the Missouri Supreme Court rules, which prevent him from commenting on a pending lawsuit before it is decided upon. 

He added the lawsuit is currently under seal, but that "might soon change."

Here is a timeline based on the documents Crocker released along with charging documents released by the Washington County prosecutor:

  • Feb. 8: Washington County 911 dispatchers receive a call about a domestic disturbance occurring between Donald Gaston and the mother of his child.
  • Feb. 9: Gaston refused to allow anyone to enter his home even though Iron County deputies accompanied the mother of his child back to her home to get some personal items. She then went to a relative’s home to seek “safe refuge” from Gaston.
  • Feb. 10: Bresnahan submitted a warrant application to the Iron County Prosecutor, Brian Parker, seeking first-degree assault and endangering the welfare of a child charges related to the case. Burkett called Washington County 911 and asked for a cellular “ping” to “check the well-being,” and told them the child’s mother had fled the county with a child and a court order stated the father of the child should have been notified. Burkett also said the child was possibly injured and her mother was possibly intoxicated. When dispatchers said it appeared the child’s mother was heading back to her home, Burkett told dispatchers, “I hope like hell she is because when I catch her, she’s going to sit in my jail.” Deputy Matthew Cozad contacted Washington County 911 dispatchers and told them to enter a hold on the woman’s vehicle into the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System.
  • On or about Feb. 16: the Commission was informed that in contradiction to its original request, cameras installed in the Iron County Courthouse allowed for audio recording in addition to video recording. Such cameras are monitored by and connected to additional equipment located at the Iron County Sheriff’s Department Office and jail.
  • On or about Feb. 25: Deputy Chase Bresnahan sent an email to Scaggs, which stated, “The Sheriff’s Department will maintain the safety and security of all government buildings…This means the Iron County Courthouse. If anyone touches the cameras, they will be charged with tampering with government property.”
  • March 3: The administrative assistant sent an email to all Iron County deputies and jail personnel, which stated: “Per Sheriff, we are not talking with any of the city officers and they will not be allowed in the building as well as state troopers…NO EXCEPTIONS.”
  • March 7: At about 8:30 a.m. Parker sent an email to Burkett, copying deputies and jail staff, stating: “The County Commission will be sending someone to access the surveillance equipment in the sheriff’s department and in the courthouse. This is not a violation of law. I will not file any charges referred to me regarding such individuals acting on behalf of the commission. Do not arrest, interfere with or threaten any individual sent by the County Commission.” Two hours later, a vendor from Williams Alarm went to the sheriff’s department and jail and was told he could not access anything without the sheriff’s permission.

For now, Iron County Coroner Tim Harbison is now serving as the sheriff.

Among the documents Crocker released Monday is another motion the county prosecutor filed while Burkett was hospitalized with severe COVID-19 asking that Harbison be appointed to fill the role while the sheriff was incapacitated.

“Lo and behold, as a condition of his bond release, they want him to be removed from office,” Crocker said.

Burkett remains jailed with a $500,000 bail.

A bond hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

Read the rest of the documents Crocker released here.

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