Rex Iverson was arrested on the morning of January 23, as he failed to respond to a $2,400 civil judgment. Fewer than 12 hours later, the 45-year-old Utah man was found dead inside a Box Elder County Jail holding cell. Although authorities do not suspect foul play, the case remains controversial, because the suspect was arrested, and jailed, for an outstanding debt.
The Standard Examiner reports the original bill was incurred on Christmas Eve, 2013. According to reports, Iverson had a medical emergency and was subsequently taken to a local hospital by ambulance. Upon his release, he was presented with a bill for $2,376.92.
Representatives with Tremonton City said they contacted Rex Iverson on numerous occasions in an attempt to collect the debt. Unfortunately, he simply refused to pay. The city was eventually forced to file a case in small claims court.
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In September, 2014, Tremonton City was awarded judgment against Iverson — who was ordered to pay the outstanding debt. However, as he failed to respond, a warrant was issued for his arrest on December 29, 2015.
Rex Iverson was arrested and transported to the Box Elder County Jail on the morning of January 23. He was found dead later that same afternoon.
Authorities do not have any reason to suspect foul play, as Iverson died of natural causes. But, his death brought attention to the city’s practice of jailing citizens for outstanding debt.
As reported by the American Civil Liberties Union, “the United States eliminated the imprisonment of debtors under federal law” in 1833, and the Supreme Court affirmed the decision on numerous occasions throughout the last 150 years. However, people are still being arrested and jailed amid cases related to outstanding debt.
As there are no criminal charges directly related to owing debt, the courts usually issue warrants for contempt of court or failure to appear instead.
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Tremonton city treasurer Sharri Oyler confirmed this was the case with Rex Iverson. As he failed to appear for the civil case, the plaintiff was awarded default judgment. When he failed to pay the judgment, the court ordered him to personally appear to disclose his assets. Assistant Courts Administrator Richard Schwermer explains.
“When a person defaults, in order to find out what assets they have, the plaintiff is entitled to compel the defendant to show up and answer questions, about cars, house, mortgages… The warrant is only issued after two demands for appearance or services have been ignored and the person has intentionally failed to appear.”
Local authorities and court officials both confirmed Iverson simply refused to cooperate. As a result, a warrant was issued for his arrest.
The circumstances surrounding Rex Iverson’s death were provided on the Box Elder County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page.
“Deputy spoke with him at about 1310 hrs to determine if he would be able to post bail… When the Deputy returned about 30 minutes later to begin the booking process Mr. Iverson was found unresponsive in the cell. Lifesaving efforts were started by Deputies… ambulance responded and transported Mr. Iverson to the Brigham City Hospital where he was pronounced dead.”
The Salt Lake Tribune reports Rex Iverson was in his cell alone, and foul play is not suspected.
Tremonton officials said it is rare for defendants to be arrested for outstanding debt. However, a total of 13 people were booked into the Box Elder County Jail on civil, as opposed to criminal, warrants in the last three years.
Deputy Ward did not provide specific details, but he said “all of them either posted bail or were released in a short time on a promise to appear.”
The investigation into Rex Iverson’s death is ongoing. Per state regulations, two outside agencies are in the process of investigating the 45-year-old man’s death.
[Mugshot Image via SinclairStoryLine]