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Missouri AG wants to remove sheriff accused of gang activity from office

Iron County Sheriff Jeff Burkett, two deputies and a citizen were charged in March with crimes related to an alleged kidnapping plot.

IRON COUNTY, Mo. — Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey filed a lawsuit Thursday to try to forcibly remove another elected official from office. This time, it’s a sheriff in the lead belt who has been accused of “gang activity.”

Iron County Sheriff Jeff Burkett, two of his deputies and a citizen were all charged in March with multiple crimes related to an alleged scheme to kidnap the citizen’s children from their mother following a domestic dispute.

Those charges included street gang activities, misusing 911, stalking, making a false report, looking up criminal records under false pretense and attempted kidnapping.

"As attorney general, I will always work to hold accountable those who refuse to do their jobs as required by Missouri statute," Bailey said in a statement. "Missourians have seen firsthand what happens when elected officials fail to enforce the law, and my office is not going to stand by and let it happen again. To that end, I am moving for the immediate removal of the Iron County Sheriff, and I demand that he resign."

Burkett's attorney, Gabe Crocker, sent a statement to 5 On Your Side responding to Bailey's allegations.

"I am disappointed that the Attorney General's Office would attempt to remove an elected official from office before any evidence has been heard in a court of law," Crocker wrote. "However, I have been told that the Attorney General is a very reasonable and grounded individual and I look forward to working with his office to resolve this matter."

This is the second quo warranto petition Bailey has filed since Gov. Mike Parson appointed him to replace Eric Schmitt, who is now a congressman. In March, Bailey’s office filed a lawsuit to remove St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner from office, accusing her of willfully neglecting her duties to prosecute crimes.

Gardner resigned before a judge could determine the merit of the lawsuit.

A judge will have to be assigned to preside over the quo warranto Bailey has filed against Burkett, who is facing three felonies and six misdemeanors.

Bailey said Burkett needs to be removed from office immediately, according to court documents filed Thursday.

“Respondent abused his power and authority as an elected sheriff by encouraging other law enforcement officers to make illegal arrests and detentions of (the victim), knowing that he had no jurisdiction or authority and knowing that the arrests and seizures lacked any probable cause or reasonable suspicion, thus knowingly violating the Constitutional rights of (the victim) under the Missouri and United States Constitutions, and subjecting unsuspecting fellow law enforcement officers in neighboring counties to potential civil and criminal liability,” according to the lawsuit.

It continued: “Because (Burkett) willfully and fraudulently violated his official duty, (Burkett) is not eligible to hold the office of Sheriff of Iron County, Missouri, and (Burkett) is an interloper and usurper, and must be removed from office.”

The lawsuit also alleges Burkett’s peace officer license has been temporarily suspended by the Director of the Department of Public Safety, therefore he cannot serve as the sheriff because he is not presently a licensed police officer.

The allegations stem from an alleged domestic dispute that happened in February. According to the charging documents, Burkett and two of his deputies, Deputy Chase Bresnahan, Deputy Matt Cozad, were helping Donald “Rick” Gaston, an Iron County resident, with a scheme to kidnap Gaston's children from their mother after a domestic dispute.

Gaston posted a $500,000 surety bond in April and is wearing an ankle monitor as part of the terms of his release, according to court documents.

Burkett posted a $250,000 surety bond in April. He waived his right to a preliminary hearing Wednesday, and a judge ordered him to turn over all of his firearms to the Iron County Sheriff’s Department, according to court documents.

In a statement issued shortly after charges were filed, Burkett’s attorney, Gabe Crocker, called the charges "politically motivated."

"There has been an ongoing attempt to remove Sheriff Burkett from office before he even took office," the statement said.

There are about 9,500 people in Iron County, according to the 2020 census.

The Missouri Highway Patrol is now assisting with policing duties in the county about 95 miles south of St. Louis – and also conducted an investigation into the alleged kidnapping scheme.

According to charging documents, Gaston was “physical aggressive” with the mother of his child on Feb. 8. Court documents allege that between February 10 and 11, Burkett, Gaston, Bresnahan and Cozad made a fake request for the detention and arrest of the mother of the child to the Washington County 911 dispatch center in their plan to help kidnap the child, according to the documents.

The new lawsuit against the sheriff also accuses Bresnahan of calling Washington County 911 dispatch 10 days after the original incident and requesting “yet another phone ping of A.H.’s phone, citing the possible endangerment of a child.”

When that didn’t work, because Washington County dispatchers knew there wasn’t an active investigation, the Attorney General’s lawsuit alleges Bresnahan contacted Verizon Wireless and requested an emergency ping for the victim’s phone, according to the lawsuit.

Bresnahan then called the Missouri Highway Patrol asking for a trooper to arrest the victim and detain her until he could arrive – even though there was no active warrant for her arrest, according to the lawsuit.

The men are also accused of putting a fake “stop and hold” instruction on the child’s mother’s record, so if any police officer stopped her, she would be detained.

The men are also accused of getting the mother and daughter’s real-time location by fraudulently obtaining a ping from their cell phones. Gaston then used that information to go to a location in Jefferson County where they were seeking “refuge” from him, according to the documents.

A Jefferson County deputy went to that location after Burkett requested a welfare check on the child, and Gaston showed up. The deputy ordered him to leave after determining the child was not in danger, according to Bailey’s lawsuit.

The victim also knew Gaston was following her because she checked the GPS tracking service on his truck, which showed he was following her even though she was no longer within the boundaries of Iron County, according to the lawsuit.

The sheriff can only use his police powers within his own jurisdiction, according to the lawsuit.

The sheriff is accused of obtaining criminal history information under false pretense by telling Washington County 911 dispatchers that the child’s mother had kidnapped her daughter, was intoxicated and that the child had been injured.

When trying to locate the child's mother, one of the dispatchers asked Burkett some follow-up questions. Burkett responded by saying it was being done at Gaston's request, and the dispatcher said he could hear another man's voice saying the same thing, "as if the unidentified male was telling Burkett what to say" according to court documents.

In his lawsuit, Bailey alleges that the unidentified male was Gaston.

The sheriff is also accused of misusing emergency telephone services for making repeated calls to 911 for non-emergency situations, causing operators or equipment to be in use when emergency situations may have needed such operators or equipment, according to the documents.

The sheriff also allegedly caused a false report to be made to Washington County 911 Dispatch that a parental kidnapping had occurred and that the child’s life was in danger because of her mother’s actions, according to court documents.

READ | Bailey's quo warranto petition against Burkett:

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