This is the second of a multi-part series of allegations made about the former Iron County Sheriff and three deputies, along with the sheriff’s wife and an Iron County resident, resulting in multiple charges filed in Iron and Washington counties. – Editor
Former Iron County Sheriff Jeffery L. Burkett, three Iron County Sheriff’s Office deputies, Chase R. Bresnahan, Matthew A. Cozad, and Christopher A. Jayne, an Iron County resident Donald Rickie Gaston, and the former sheriff’s wife Trudi M. Burkett are charged with a combined 23 felonies and 34 misdemeanors in the counties of Iron and Washington. Part one of the story has a complete list of charges against each person.
Previously, Iron County officers responded to a disturbance at the Gaston residence and discovered a domestic dispute between Gaston and a woman (W1) who lived in the home. Also living in the home were two children (C1 and C2). The disturbance ended with Gaston remaining home while W1, C1, and C2 voluntarily left. The prior story ended on day two, Feb. 9, when officers contacted 911 dispatchers and told them the disturbance was over and they were signing off for the day.
For the second part of this story, it’s important to know that in a civil case from 2022 — during a time when Gaston and W1 were not living together — the couple reached a custody agreement to share time with the child they had together, C2. The agreement gave full custody to W1 with visitation rights to Gaston: “every other weekend Friday 8 a.m. to Sunday 6 p.m. and every other Wednesday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday preceding Mother’s weekend. Starting May 25, 2022.” The agreement did not specify which parent had custody on the first weekend after the agreement was reached. The agreement did say it was enforceable by law, allowing law enforcement officials to ensure the child in question is with the correct parent during their specified custody times.
Washington County had an operating agreement with Iron County to manage “911” calls, law enforcement dispatching, and Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System (MULES) inquiries. As defined by the Missouri Revisor of Statutes, MULES is a statewide computerized communications system provided by the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) “designed to provide services, information, and capabilities to the law enforcement and criminal justice community in the state of Missouri.”
Part two of this story covers events taken from probable cause statements written by MSHP investigators. Remember that everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and a child custody agreement existed between two players in this saga.
Day Three – Feb. 10
An attorney, for anonymity called A1, received a call from Jeffery Burkett about the enforceability of a temporary child custody order. A1 asked Burkett if “the order had a clause allowing for law enforcement officers to enforce it,” and if the order was not at all vague about the determination of visitation time, the order was enforceable. Burkett allegedly failed to tell A1 that Gaston and W1 lived together after a temporary custody order was entered in court.
At about 4:20 p.m. on Feb. 10, Cozad called W1’s mother, who lives in Madison County, and asked if W1 was at the home. W1’s mother told Cozad no. She later told MSHP investigators Cozad was “rude and intimidating on the phone.” W1’s parents say that at approximately 5:15 p.m., Gaston and Cozad came to their home.
They say Cozad was “rude and threatening,” called W1 a liar, and said W1 would go to jail for kidnapping. W1’s parents told Gaston and Cozad they were not welcome on the property. After the incident, W1’s parents reported the visit to the Madison County Sheriff’s Department. They were told Jeffery Burkett would be contacted and told not to send deputies to the Madison County home again.
Jeffery Burkett used a phone to call Washington County Dispatchers instead of using radio communications at approximately 6:30 p.m. to request a cellular phone “ping” on the phone number belonging to W1. Jeffery Burkett reportedly said the “ping” was to check W1’s well-being. He also told dispatchers that W1 had fled Iron County with a child, and a court order was in place stating the father should have been notified. Jeffery Burkett also said W1 may be intoxicated, and C2 might be injured. He told dispatchers he was with Gaston. Dispatchers contacted the cell phone provider and requested the “ping.”
The first “ping” showed W1’s phone near Leadington at approximately 6:45 p.m. Dispatchers passed the information on to Jeffery Burkett. Within five minutes, Cozad called dispatchers by telephone and requested a MULES inquiry to find any vehicles registered to W1. At about 7:15 p.m., Cozad and Bresnahan called the Missouri Department of Social Services (MDSS) and reported C2 had a “very large knot” on her hand; it was “raised and bruised,” and possibly broken because of how it looked. The deputies claimed the injury was the result of W1 throwing a phone at C2. They said they were not pressing charges, but W1 was fleeing from law enforcement and refusing to meet Gaston for a custody exchange.
“Pings” beginning at about 7:20 p.m. Indicated to Washington County dispatchers that W1 was returning to her home in Iron County. When the information was relayed to Jeffery Burkett, he reportedly said, “I hope like hell she is because when I catch her, she’s gonna sit in my jail.” MSHP investigators say no warrants existed for W1, and no application for an arrest warrant had been submitted when Jeffery Burkett made the statement.
By 8:20 p.m. “pings” showed W1’s phone in Washington County. Dispatchers relayed the information to Jeffery Burkett. Jeffery Burkett believed W1 was driving to a relative’s home located in Washington County. He told dispatchers to have Washington County deputies stop at the property entrance but not to go on the property. Jeffery Burkett told dispatchers Gaston was on his way to get C2.
When the dispatcher hesitated to pass on the information, Jeffery Burkett allegedly said, “That’s at Mr. Gaston’s request.” The dispatcher asked for the home’s address and listened as Jeffery Burkett asked a man to give him the address, and the man responded that he didn’t know the address. The dispatcher asked if Jeffery Burkett still wanted to detain W1, and he said, “Yeah, once Mr. Gaston has his little girl, then we’ll detain her.”
At 8:30 p.m., Gaston and Cozad returned to the Madison County home of W1’s parents, demanding information about where to find W1. The parents again told them to leave and said Gaston was not welcome to come to their home.
Between 8:30 p.m. and 10:05 p.m., Bresnahan applied for an arrest warrant for W1 by submitting a probable cause statement to a prosecuting attorney via email. The warrant application requested felony charges of first-degree assault and endangering the welfare of a child. The prosecuting attorney and Bresnahan emailed back and forth; the attorney asked questions about the warrant, and Bresnahan replied. The prosecuting attorney ultimately rejected the application and probable cause statement. MSHP investigators say the information in the probable cause statement is inconsistent with Bresnahan’s original reporting of the disturbance between Gaston and W1 on Feb. 8.
At about 9:20 p.m., Gaston called Washington County Dispatch and said he was trying to contact Jeffery Burkett. Gaston told dispatchers, “he [Jeffery Burkett] and I are working together tonight.” Gaston told dispatchers he wanted Jeffery Burkett to call him back. He said he thought W1 could be driving to his ex-wife’s house.
At 9:25 p.m., Cozad called dispatchers to enter a “stop and hold” on W1 and her car. Dispatchers entered the “stop and hold” into MULES. Dispatchers and a Washington County deputy determined W1 was most likely traveling to a relative’s home in Jefferson County at about 9:40 p.m. based on the most recent “ping” from W1’s cell phone.
The relative is a major with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. Dispatchers called Jeffery Burkett and gave him this information, then contacted the Jefferson County dispatch center to provide them with the incident information.
At 10:22 p.m., Jeffery Burkett and Washington County dispatchers communicated again. Dispatchers provided the address of the Jefferson County major to Jeffery Burkett. Burkett told dispatchers Gaston was on his way to Jefferson County.
A Jefferson County deputy contacted Washington County dispatchers at about 11 p.m. to report he went to the major’s home and checked on the kids. He said there were no visible injuries and stated the children were okay. Dispatch passed the information on to Jeffery Burkett and told him W1 was not taken into custody. Jeffery Burkett reportedly said, “Okay, that’s fine. Well, they’re gonna have another issue because Gaston is on his way there.”
Was law enforcement conspiring with Gaston to harass and kidnap C2, or is this a case of law enforcement going above and beyond to enforce a child custody agreement and make sure a father is allowed to be with his child? Some believe the former, while others believe the latter. There is more to the story as day three bleeds into day four and beyond.
Jeannie Northrup is a staff writer with the Daily Journal. She can be reached at email@example.com