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The Mantua Police Department is without a police chief after being awarded small-town Police Chief of the Year by the Utah Chiefs of Police Association.

Michael Castro has been terminated as police chief after being asked to resign, and two other part-time officers resigned following Castro’s departure.

Mantua Mayor Michael Johnson responded to request for comment in an email: “At this time, we have been advised by legal counsel to not issue any more statements regarding this issue. I am certain our attorney will give you the same reply. The only statement available at this time is that the Town of Mantua has terminated the employment of Michael Castro.”

Reports of Castro’s separation began circulating last week after nearly eight months on the job.

Utah Chiefs of Police Association Executive Director Val Shupe said Castro was supposed to get the award during a banquet on March 23, but never showed. Shupe said he offered to give Castro the award at a town council meeting, but was notified of the termination days later by Castro and Johnson.

Shupe said Castro had been nominated by Johnson for one of three chief of the year awards. Castro picked up the award on Wednesday morning, and Shupe said he was not privy to any reasons why Castro was no longer with the town.

“Our board said that he should get the award, because he earned (it) — so, we gave him his award,” Shupe said. “He was nominated, and there was no reason for us to assume that there was anything that he shouldn’t get the award (for).”

Johnson told The Box Elder News Journal that an “incident” took place in which the town council “felt strongly” that Castro could not be retained, and the incident had nothing to do with the number of citations issued.

Contrary to widely circulated news reports, including an article on Newsweek’s website, Johnson said last week that the police department was still functioning with two part-time officers and another potential officer who “wants to join up,” The News Journal reported.

ABC 4 reported that Castro said he was asked to resign over a “disagreement” with the town.

Box Elder County Chief Deputy Dale Ward confirmed the Sheriff’s Office would be providing service to Mantua until the town says otherwise. Ward said responding to Mantua was not a strain but rather in the scope of regular duties for deputies.

“Box Elder County is responding to calls for service at Mantua until they get their issue with their police department sorted out,” Ward said. “It’s not a burden to the county to do that.”

Generally, police chiefs are appointed and can be let go at behest of the mayor as there aren’t always contractual obligations to uphold.

Castro’s departure comes as Mantua faces a budgetary shortfall of nearly $50,000, according to The News Journal, after municipal court revenues fell by about half and the police department was over its annual budget by about $30,000. Until recently, the town got as much as a third of its revenue from the municipal court, The News Journal reported, and for years the town has been accused of running a “speed trap” to profit off speeding tickets issued on U.S. Highway 89/91.

Johnson told The News Journal Castro’s dismissal had “nothing whatsoever” to do with the town’s budget troubles, and that in fact a public hearing is set for April 15 on a proposed tax increase to help support the police department. Johnson has advocated for a tax increase to support police and other town personnel since before he resigned from a two-and-a-half-year stint as the town’s police chief, himself, in 2017.

While acknowledging the timing of the separation may seem peculiar, Ward said based on his experience in law enforcement that terminations of police chiefs do, in fact, happen. Ward said it would serve people well not to speculate on the happenings.

“They shouldn’t be speculating on what’s carrying on here,” Ward said, “because there’s only two people who know exactly what happened.”

One of the town’s previous police chiefs, Shane J. Zilles, was dismissed in 2020 after being arrested on suspicion of DUI and speeding in a Mantua patrol car and was later arrested again on suspicion of multiple counts of possession of an altered drug.

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