Rex Iverson was found dead in a holding cell in the Box Elder County Jail in Utah on Jan. 23. Iverson had been jailed for failing to show up for civil court appearances over an unpaid medical bill.
A press release from the Box Elder County Sheriff’s Office said Iverson was asked by a deputy at 1:10 p.m. if he would be able to post bail; about 30 minutes later, the deputy found Iverson unresponsive, notes KSTU.
An ambulance transported Iverson to the Brigham City Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
The Northern Utah Critical Incident Team is investigating the incident because Iverson was in police custody at the time.
Tremonton City won a judgment against Iverson in September 2014 for a 2013 unpaid ambulance bill that came to $2,376.92.
Iverson didn't pay the bill, and missed court appearances in the civil case, so a bench warrant was issued on Dec. 29, 2015, and he was arrested on Jan. 23.
“We go to great lengths to never arrest anybody on these warrants,” Box Elder County Chief Deputy Sheriff Dale Ward told the Standard Examiner.
“But we make every effort to resolve the issues without making an arrest on a civil bench warrant," Ward added. "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."
The Box Elder County Sheriff's office has put 13 people in jail based on civil bench warrants since Jan. 1, 2013.
“I can almost guarantee you that all of them either posted bail or were released in a short time on a promise to appear,” Ward stated. “I doubt very strongly that anyone stayed longer than 12 hours.”
Sharri Oyler, Tremonton city treasurer, said the city tried to garnish Iverson's wages, but admitted that he didn't have a job to garnish the wages from.
Iverson's death now sets up a possible lawsuit by his sister, which could cost taxpayers far more than his ambulance ride and court dates.
Ward continued to shift the blame on the Iverson: “The bottom line, he just continued to ignore this thing. What made this one worse is the fact that he was thumbing his nose at a public entity, Tremonton Ambulance.”
“Everybody has worked really hard to get him a break. But ultimately it comes down to the point of the judge saying, ‘You are going to get arrested and stay in jail until you see the judge.’”
Utah's Republican lawmakers have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act for years, which would provide health care coverage to low-income residents. GOP lawmakers also rejected an alternative to Medicaid expansion, noted The Hill in 2015.