If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
Please enter your email and we will send your username and password to you.
Iron County Sheriff Jeff Burkett resigned from office Wednesday moments before he was set to face a civil trial seeking his removal over accusations that he helped a resident kidnap a child during a custody dispute. Burkett took office as Iron County sheriff in January 2021.
Lawyers for the Missouri Attorney General’s Office were set to begin arguments in a trial seeking to remove Burkett after he and two deputies were charged with engaging in “criminal street gang” activity by helping a Rickie Gaston take his child from the child’s mother using law enforcement resources.
Instead, Burkett submitted a handwritten resignation letter to the county’s clerk: “I look forward to serving the citizens of Iron County in the very near future,” the letter said.
“Sheriff Burkett did not resign because he did anything wrong,” Burkett’s attorney, Gabe Crocker, said after the hearing. “Sheriff Burkett resigned on advice of counsel because the process would have endangered his ability to defend himself in the criminal case.”
The Attorney General’s Office maintained in a statement that Burkett resigned because, “he knew we were going to win at trial this week.”
Burkett’s criminal case is ongoing.
Burkett, his two deputies — Chase Brensnahan and Matthew Cozad — and Gaston were charged in March with multiple offenses, including “criminal street gang activity.” The Washington County prosecuting attorney’s office is handling the case against Burkett.
Burkett’s criminal case has not yet been set for trial. Still, Crocker said prosecutors offered to allow Burkett to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of probation. Burkett turned it down.
Burkett has been prohibited from acting as sheriff since he was initially charged. County Coroner Tim Harbison has been running the department and Chuck Helton has been in charge of day-to-day activities. Since, the seat is now vacant, Harbison is acting sheriff until the county commission appoints a sheriff to serve until an election is held.
Defense attorneys have maintained that the charges were part of a politically motivated plot to unseat Burkett and punish his allies.
This week, lawyers working for Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s Office were set to argue that Burkett should be formally removed from his post in a “quo warranto” action because of the alleged offenses in his criminal case. Bailey’s office used the same type of lawsuit in an attempt to remove former St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner from office last year. She, too, resigned instead.
Burkett’s attorneys made a last-minute appeal to higher courts to halt Wednesday’s scheduled hearing, but those attempts were denied.
Instead, Burkett stepped down, though Crocker said it was largely a moot point because Burkett didn’t plan to run for reelection later this year. Crocker said it was “shameful” that the attorney general’s office pushed so hard to remove his client even though his criminal case hadn’t been adjudicated.
A lawyer for Bailey said the Attorney General’s Office will dismiss the attempt to remove Burkett from office once the Iron County Commission formally accepted Burkett’s resignation.
“As Attorney General, I will always work to hold accountable those who refuse to do their job as required by Missouri statute,” Bailey said in a statement Wednesday. “Missourians have seen firsthand what happens when elected officials fail to enforce the law: It’s utter chaos.”