Rex Iverson was put in the Box Elder County (Utah) 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’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. About half are from private debts.
The Box Elder County’s sheriff’s deputy served a $350 bench warrant issued by the “justice court” on December 29 of 2015. While Iverson is probably the first to die in custody in Box Elder County under these circumstances, he’s not the first to be serviced with a civil bench warrant. He was arrested on the morning of Saturday, January 23. He was dead on the morning of Sunday, January 24, without so much as having been booked.
“How can you get blood out of a turnip?” Josh Daniels of the Utah-based Libertas Institute asked, adding, “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.”
This is only going to get worse. As more people sink into debt and are unable to escape, we’re going to see this more and more — and these sorts of tragic stories are only going to become more common.