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Branson names new police chief amid human resources investigation into former chief

Eric Schmitt was named Branson police chief, effective immediately, on Dec. 15, 2022.
City of Branson
Eric Schmitt was named Branson police chief, effective immediately, on Dec. 15, 2022. He served as assistant chief since 2017 and previously spent more than 20 years in law enforcement in the Denver, Colorado area.

On Thursday, Dec. 15, Branson City Administrator Cathy Stepp named a new police chief for the Taney County town, effective immediately.

Eric Schmitt — not to be confused with Missouri’s United States Senator-elect, whose name is spelled the same way — was promoted to Branson’s top law enforcement job on Thursday after serving as assistant chief since 2017.

For more than 20 years before that, Schmitt worked in law enforcement in the Denver, Colorado area.

In a news release, Branson Mayor Larry Milton called Schmitt’s work “outstanding” and characterized him as a “humble servant” of the community.

Schmitt replaces former police chief Jeff Matthews, who resigned on Monday after becoming subject to a human resources investigation that began in late October.

Former Chief Matthews and Sgt. Pat Gray were put on administrative leave at that time, and they received their normal salaries while on leave, a city spokesperson said. Gray also resigned Monday, the city said earlier this week.

City officials have not publicly said what prompted that investigation. Branson spokesperson Melody Pettit told KSMU none of Branson’s elected officials or city employees encouraged Matthews and Gray to resign this week.

Pettit said Wednesday that the H.R. inquiry is being conducted by Kutak Rock law firm, which has an office in Springfield.

The firm is serving as an independent third-party investigator to ensure a "fair and impartial" investigation, she said.

It's not clear how much money Kutak Rock is being paid for the investigation, which Pettit said was not yet complete.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs.