The ex-wife of a Pottawattamie County deputy sheriff who was killed in the line of duty last year has filed a lawsuit against his widow and the county, claiming donations made for his children were never given to them.
Sara Reinsch is the ex-wife of Deputy Mark Burbridge, who died May 1, 2017, after inmate Wesley Correa-Carmenaty fatally shot him when he attempted to escape from custody at the Pottawattamie County Jail. According to the petition, Reinsch claims that after Burbridge’s death, Sheriff’s Sgt. Jason LeMaster and the county created the Mark Burbridge Memorial Fund, which collected more than $160,000 in donations from the public.
However, Burbridge’s widow, Jessica, contends in court documents that the donated money was not declared specifically for the children.
“The Sheriff’s Office and Jason LeMaster notified the public that donations could be made,” to the benefit of Mark’s then-wife, Jessica Burbridge, and three children, according to Reinsch’s petition. Burbridge had two biological children with Reinsch, now ages 15 and 14, named Kaleb and Karley.
The petition claims Burbridge also cared for Kelsey Brant, 23, of Elkhorn, Nebraska, with Reinsch — while they were married. The petition states that the couple raised Brant as their own daughter, though she was never adopted by Burbridge. Mark Burbridge and Reinsch divorced in 2012.
The petition goes on to claim Treynor State Bank and PayPal were the only Burbridge family-approved donation venues and that Jessica Burbridge did not reside with Mark Burbridge’s children.
The petition also claims Reinsch, as the children’s mother, tried to obtain bank statements of the fund at Treynor State Bank but was denied access to the account. It states the Sheriff’s Office instructed the bank to allow only Jessica Burbridge access to the account.
“Jessica has now depleted the fund and taken all the money meant to assist Mark’s children following his death, leaving them nothing after openly exploiting them for personal gain,” the petition claims.
The Nonpareil published at least 10 articles about donations or featuring details on how to donate to the fund to benefit the Burbridge family.
“The fund was advertised in numerous publications, news outlets and on social media, each time representing the funds would go to help Mark’s wife and three children,” the petition states.
Attached to the petition were several screenshots of the Sheriff’s Office Facebook posts about the memorial fund stating it was set up “to assist fallen Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Burbridge’s wife and three children.”
Attempts to reach Brant, Jessica Burbridge and Reinsch by The Nonpareil were unsuccessful on Monday. Contact information was given to their respective attorneys.
Bill Bracker, an attorney representing Jessica Burbridge, declined to comment and referred questions about their involvement in the case to court documents.
On April 16, Jessica Burbridge filed an answer to the petition refuting many of its claims.
In her reply, Jessica Burbridge admits donations were made to the memorial fund but denied they were for the purpose of assisting the children and confirmed the account is now closed. However, in courts documents, she stated the children are the beneficiaries of a $400,000 life insurance policy, $171,000 from the Department of Justice and $8,000 from the Homicide Survivor’s Group.
Currently, another life insurance policy Mark Burbridge had taken out is being litigated between Jessica Burbridge, Reinsch and Donna Burbridge, who is Mark Burbridge’s mother.
That policy, worth $25,783, was through Thrivent Financial. An attorney for Thrivent said the sum has been paid out to the county in trust until the court renders a decision.
Edward Keane, an attorney representing Reinsch in her suit against the county, said the children are not beneficiaries of the $400,000 life insurance policy and that Jessica Burbridge’s answers contained numerous inaccuracies.
“The fund was set up to assist Mark’s wife and three children, yet Jessica denies donations were for that purpose. They have never seen any proceeds from the fund,” Keane said. He declined to comment further.
Jessica Burbridge “specifically denies exploiting Mark’s children and has in fact assisted them in collecting,” various benefits, her filed answer states. She did state none of the funds have been distributed to the children.
Pottawattamie County Sheriff Jeff Danker declined to comment and referred questions to the County Attorney’s Office.
Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber told The Nonpareil neither the Sheriff’s Office nor LeMaster set up or had any authority over the memorial fund account in question.
“I would say, however, that the timing of the lawsuit is unfortunate,” Wilber said. “This lawsuit was filed just before the anniversary of Mark’s death, and the Sheriff’s Office and Mark’s widow having to answer a lawsuit during the preparations for Police Memorial Week made an already tragic situation even more sad.”
The petition was filed March 29. The Nonpareil discovered the case on Monday.
In their reply to the petition, Danker, LeMaster and County Auditor Melvyn Houser deny the claim they opened or controlled a bank account for donations to the fund. The county states the idea for a bank account to help Burbridge’s family came from a recommendation by the Iowa Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) organization.
The answer goes on to state they did not exploit Reinsch or the children for personal gain, and state in the immediate hours after Mark Burbridge had died, Reinsch was contacting the Sheriff’s Office concerning money and benefits she and the children would receive.
Since Burbridge’s death, the children have been awarded monthly payments of $602 from Pottawattamie County’s workers’ compensation provider and $621 per month from health insurance benefits at cost to the county, according to the county’s reply.
The next court date for the case is set for June 13.