Utah Man Dies In Police Custody After Being Jailed For $2,400 Unpaid Medical Bill


Rex Iverson was put in the Box Elder County Jail when he didn’t pay an ambulance bill. The next day, he was dead.

Iverson didn’t have the money to pay bail much less the $2,376.92 bill to the Tremonton City Ambulance service. There was an attempt to to garnish his wages, “but he didn’t have a job, that we knew of,” City treasurer Sharri Oyler explained.

“We go to great lengths to never arrest anybody on these warrants,” Elder County Chief Deputy Sheriff Dale Ward told the Ogden Standard-Examiner. “The reason we do that is we don’t want to run a debtors’ prison. There is no reason for someone to be rotting in jail on a bad debt.”

Iverson had no means to pay bail, or his $2,376.92 bill with the Tremonton City Ambulance service. City treasurer Sharri Oyler said that an attempt was made to garnish Iverson’s wages “but he didn’t have a job, that we knew of.

“How can you get blood out of a turnip?” Josh Daniels of the Utah-based Libertas Institute said. “The thing about going to jail, your time does not pay your debt… A person should be obliged to pay, but putting him in jail doesn’t solve the problem.”

Iverson’s death brings more questions about the modern-day debtors’ prisons, what Utah is calling “justice courts.” According to he Standard-Examiner, in the last three years, 13 people have been arrested and jailed for debts similar to Iverson’s, many from government agencies.

Last fall, John Oliver blew the lid off of the corrupt system of debtors’ prisons which are supposed to be illegal but that isn’t stopping many. The Free Thought Project cites a report from last October by the Sixth Amendment Center, which says that Utah’s “justice courts” exist to monetize misery, rather than to ensure justice or any kind of due process. In Iverson’s case, there was neither.

Iverson’s unnecessary death has re-focused attention on Utah’s “justice courts,” which were lambasted in a report issued last October by the Sixth Amendment Center, an advocacy group promoting reforms in the indigent defense system. As with similar judicial (in this case, the appropriate term might be “quasi-judicial”) bodies in other states, Utah’s “justice courts” exist to monetize misery, rather than to carry out due process.

In Utah, most petty offenses are tried before “justice courts,” and many – perhaps most – of the judges in those courts are staggeringly unqualified: They are appointed from a pool of applicants by a six-member panel that uses selection criteria less rigorous than the admissions standards for DeVry University. No law degree or legal experience is necessary to serve as a Justice Court judge; in fact, any city resident with a GED and an advocate on the municipal panel would qualify.

More than 62 percent of defendants statewide “are processed through Utah’s justice courts without a lawyer,” points out the Sixth Amendment Center. Under relevant Supreme Court precedents, this constitutes an “actual denial of counsel” in violation of constitutional guarantees.