Why 19 Utah police officers, including a former chief, were disciplined by oversight council

A heated argument between the former police chief of Mantua and the town's former mayor has led the agency that hands out discipline to Utah law enforcers to take minor action.

On Sept. 30, members of Peace Officer Standards and Training voted to suspend former Mantua Police Chief Michael F. Castro's law enforcement certification for three months. The suspension started at the time he was fired in March, meaning his suspension was already over when POST handed down the discipline.

Castro was one of 19 officers that the POST council took action against during their latest meeting. The Peace Officer Standards and Training Council is comprised of police chiefs, sheriffs and residents from across the state. The council meets quarterly to, in part, review allegations of misconduct by officers and hand down discipline. That discipline can range from a letter of condemnation to revoking an officer's certification. All sworn officers in Utah must be certified by the organization.

In a recording of their Sept. 30 meeting, POST announced that Castro had been investigated for allegations of disorderly conduct. A meeting with former Mayor Michael Johnson and a Mantua councilwoman became heated to the point that Castro could be heard yelling at the mayor, according to the POST report.

Castro, who was hired as chief just eight months earlier, was allegedly being pressured to have his officers write more speeding tickets to help with shortfalls in the town's budget. Castro refused and faced disciplinary action by the city.

According to the POST investigation, during the meeting with the mayor, Castro told him that firing him would be a "huge mistake" and that it would come back to "bite the mayor in the ass." The mayor was allegedly intimidated and "alarmed" by Castro's behavior, the POST investigation found.

After Castro was fired, two other officers resigned. Johnson resigned as mayor a short time later.

In other cases reviewed during the meeting, the POST council revoked the certifications of three officers. Two officers, one from Springville police and one from South Salt Lake police, had their law enforcement certifications revoked for domestic violence-related cases, according to POST.

A third officer, from Provo police, had his certification revoked for an incident at a Provo school. The officer's younger brother had allegedly been bullied at the school. The officer called the principal and threatened to file a complaint if the principal did not contact Provo police, according to POST. The next day, the officer conducted "excessive traffic enforcement" in front of the school, pulling over more vehicles than normal, the investigation found. The officer then lied about his actions in a police report, according to POST.

All three officers were either fired or had resigned from their departments prior to their certifications being revoked. Once an officer's certification is revoked in Utah, that person cannot apply to become an officer again.

Several people were disciplined for lying or falsifying official documents, either in applying to become a police officer or in their official police reports, POST found. Some lied about their past drug use while others did not disclose crimes they had committed.

A former Utah Highway Patrol trooper had his certification suspended for a year for mishandling of evidence. The POST report found the trooper took evidence home — namely cellphones collected in drug investigations — rather than booking them into a secured evidence room. He was investigated for the same offense a few years earlier.

The trooper claimed he was overwhelmed with his caseload and when he couldn't remember what cases the phones went to, he tried to sort it out at home, he told the council. He also kept a wallet at his house that he took from a woman, and then tried to burn it when he was afraid he would get in trouble again for mishandling of evidence, according to POST. The trooper resigned in May 2020 in lieu of being fired.

Also during September's POST meeting, final approval was given to new training guidelines for use of force and police K-9 certification so departments have a baseline standard.

Maj. Scott Stephenson, the director of POST, also presented a proposal to the council for officers to be certified in community outreach. With the number of refugees relocating to Utah and with how diverse the state has become, Stephenson said it is important for officers know how to address the needs of everyone who lives in the communities they serve.

The council gave its approval for Stephenson to continue looking into the idea and coming up with a certification training course.