Mantua, a town of less than a thousand people in Box Elder County, lost five police officers over the course of a few days at the end of March following the dismissal of Police Chief Michael Castro.
One of the officers, Cpl. Bret Bergstrom, said in his resignation letter that elected officials in the town repeatedly asked police to sit on the highway and write citations to people traveling through the canyon. He said he was asked to “give a break” to residents.
“I started to feel as if I was a part of a revenue stream and not law enforcement,” he wrote. “That is not the type of officer I am. I take pride in everything I do, and I was sworn to protect and serve not just the town, but every citizen of Utah.”
He said the town’s name was tainted by past actions of its police department, and he felt that Castro was making a real difference and helping Mantua clean up its name.
Mantua has had a reputation as a speed trap. Former Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, introduced a bill in 2016 to prevent how much money towns could make from speeding fines because people were complaining about Mantua.
The town also faced a policing scandal in 2019 when previous Police Chief Zane Zilles was let go for allegedly driving a police vehicle while intoxicated.
“But as we were cleaning the (town’s) name, we still were fighting a battle that in the end, we could not win,” wrote Bergstrom. “Money truly is the root of all evil.”
He said he will miss patrolling in the mountains and waving at residents from his police car.
Castro told FOX 13 in an interview that he believes he was dismissed for not writing enough speeding tickets to drivers passing through town.
A probation letter given to Castro accuses him of problems including not investigating a reported stalking and not responding to a report of a suspicious vehicle, according to FOX 13. However, FOX 13 followed up with the alleged victims in those cases, who said they were concerned their reports were misconstrued in the probation letter to make Castro look bad.
Two of the officers who resigned said they were doing so because of the uncertainty that comes with not having a police chief.
Sgt. Joshua Jeffries said he had lost his team and support system amid the other resignations.
Officer Michael Villegas said he had held his letter of resignation in the hopes that one of the town’s two sergeants would be promoted to chief in Castro’s absence. After Jeffries and Sgt. Ryan Staats resigned, Villegas followed their lead. He said in the letter that he is interested in working for Mantua again in the future.
Villegas told The Salt Lake Tribune that the tickets were not a problem for him. He said police officers have a lot of liabilities and rely on a chief to assume those liabilities and lead them in the right direction. He said police officers need a chief and sergeants to function, because one person can’t be a police officer all alone.
Mantua Mayor Michael Johnson did not respond to a request for comment.
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