It turned out that Finau and Rocky had helped start the Baby Regulators. The gang got its name because many of its members were the younger brothers and cousins of the Regulators, a gang that had fought the Tongan Crip Gang in the early days, and took as its theme song, “Regulate,” by rapper Warren G. The “Baby Regs” took the standard beer theft and turned it into a violent assault on store clerks, says Trudy Cropper, the Metro Gang Unit’s expert on Polynesian gangs. They developed a trade in methamphetamine, and forged ties with gangs such as Tiny Oriental Posse, an Asian gang.
“I knew my boys were fighting in school, things like that,” says Umu Manatau. But they didn’t wear the baggy clothing and gang colors. They were on the Granger High football team. “This was a complete shock.”
Yet it made perfect sense to the Manatau boys. Finau Manatau explains that the family lived in a Blood neighborhood, and gangs like Kearns Town Bloods and Black Mafia Gang had it in for the Polynesian kids as early as junior high.
“To us, (belonging to a gang) meant hanging out, no fear,” Finau Manatau says. Even in junior high, the older, rival Blood gangs “couldn’t take care of us.”
But self-defense soon twisted into aggression and lawlessness. By the time they hit high school, the Baby Regulators were walking around with thousands of dollars in their pockets from drug deals. They savored their notoriety, posing for photos with their weapons and cash.
The robbery spree that would finally expose Finau and Rocky was just one in a long string of serious and often violent crimes. Arrested and charged, the two brothers spent the rest of high school in juvenile detention.
But the trouble in the Manatau household didn’t end there. One morning, Cliff Chase was sent out to handle a robbery. The night before, officers had tracked beer thieves through West Valley City to the familiar white brick house with “Manatau” spelled in the iron gate. The store clerk’s description of the culprit matched Finau and Rocky’s brother, Simote. When Chase arrived at the Manatau house, he learned that Umu and his wife, Tupou, were in Tonga. Inside, officers found known gang members and a party that had been raging all night.
Chase handcuffed Simote, whom he had known since he was a small boy, and walked him to the patrol car. “I was thinking of my buddy Umu the whole time,” Chase says. “I wanted to protect him from the fallout. I wanted to save his face by making an example of his son.”
Juvenile hall didn’t cure Rocky, Finau and Simote. Once out, they found little else to do but return to their “boys.” Soon they were back in court. Simote landed in federal prison. As Finau explains, once you’re in the correctional system, the question isn’t whether you’ll return, but for what, and whether the crime is violent and profound enough to get you respect once you’re back in.
Yet, as the boys grew into their twenties, they tried harder to resist gang activity. Finau left the state and enrolled in college. Rocky found a steady job and got married. On the night he drove into the mountains in the warm Indian Summer air to the Lucky Dube concert outside of Park City, his wife was eight months pregnant.
At the Lucky Dube show, Lui
Fa, a Salt Lake City guitar player, had just finished playing with
the night’s opening band, One Foundation. He remembers
standing at the club entrance, looking out over the crowd, full of
gangsters and frat boys. Many of Fa’s friends were there,
including his cousin, Kautoke Tangitau, or “Toke.”
Fa had “tried wearing blue and that stuff,” he says, but had become more interested in music than in gangs. Toke Tangitau was a different story. “My cousin has a short temper,” Fa says. Tangitau also had a warrant out for his arrest that night, for failing to appear in court for two felony charges. He had been running with the Tongan Crip Gang. Yet in the crowd, he looked like one more partier in jeans and a white T-shirt, hanging with dozens of family members and friends.
Rocky Manatau was also with old friends. Among them were two other Baby Regulators, the brothers Finau and Viliami Tukuafu, and another friend, Sione Tai.
They must have realized the night might bring trouble. With so many gangsters of all stripes, big bodies and colliding energy, Suede carried the electric atmosphere of a boxing ring: In one corner were Toke Tangitau and the Tongan Crips, and in the other, Rocky Manatau and the Baby Regulators. Two decades of violent history were suddenly packed into this tiny, sweaty space.