One of the six candidates seeking the job as Salt Lake County’s interim sheriff has been disqualified from the race because he does not hold a current peace officer certification.
The Salt Lake County Democratic Party’s decision was delivered to Matani Manatua both in person and by email on Aug. 4, the candidate said.
Manatua retired from law enforcement in 2006 after working as a police officer, a jailer and a bounty hunter.
He doesn’t dispute the status of his certification, but claims he raised the issue before getting into the race and was told to go ahead because he had proof of past certification.
“Now they say it has to be current,” Manatua told The Salt Lake Tribune, even though the word “current” doesn’t appear on the application.
And therein lies the dispute.
The application asks candidates to verify that they met the standards set by Utah’s statewide police academy — known as POST, or Peace Officer Standards and Training — and are “qualified” to serve. POST records show Manatua’s certification lapsed in April.
“Our interpretation of qualified is that it has to be current,” said Quang Dang, the county party’s chairman, adding that Manatua can stay on the ballot if he can resolve the issue by Saturday.
That’s the day the county party’s 1,100-member Central Committee will elect an interim sheriff to replace Democrat Jim Winder, who left the post in July to become Moab’s police chief.
Manatua and five others — Steve Anjewierden, Ken Hansen, Levi Hughes, Rosie Rivera and Fred Ross — all want the job and would serve through the remainder of 2018.
The winner of Saturday’s contest must be confirmed by the Salt Lake County Council before being installed.
Dang said county party officials sought advice on the certification issue from Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen and the party’s lawyer and decided the best course was to limit eligibility to those with current credentials, as required during a regular election cycle.
“We’re not trying to be difficult,” Dang said. “We’re just trying to follow the same rules that the county clerk would apply.”
Dang said the eligibility issue would be the same if a candidate failed to meet the requirement for residency or for being a registered voter.
Swensen said she didn’t offer the county party any legal advice but did refer it to state law and county policies.
Manatua’s predicament reminded her, Swensen said, of the 1994 sheriff’s election when retired deputy and one-time Democratic county commissioner, Pete Kutulas sought the job with a lapsed certification.
The then-60-year-old got on the ballot, she said, but only after returning to POST to re-certify.
Manatua contends that his eligibility lies not in the active status of his certification, but in his history and said POST allows those who have successfully completed the academy to earn or reactivate a certification after being hired by a public safety agency.
According to POST’s website, officers may renew a lapsed certification by passing both physical and written tests, but a spokeswoman for the agency said “a person is to have an active certification in order to be employed.”
Manatau said he sought advice on the certification issue from Salt Lake City’s office of the ACLU on Thursday and was referred to the Utah State Bar, where he plans to seek additional input in hopes of finding a simple solution to the dispute.
That’s not likely to happen before Saturday, however.
“I think it will take a long time,” said Manatua, who is not ruling out a civil lawsuit because of the embarrassment he’s suffered. “They have destroyed my reputation and hurt my family. “I don’t like that.”
Correction: (Aug. 11, 12:45 p.m.) An earlier version of this story misspelled a candidate’s name. The correct spelling is Matani Manatau.