Debtor smuggled strychnine capsules into Box Elder jail, investigation reveals

Wednesday , November 16, 2016 - 5:00 PM9 comments

MARK SHENEFELT, Standard-Examiner Staff

BRIGHAM CITY — An unemployed man arrested last winter on charges related to not paying a debt killed himself by ingesting strychnine shortly after he was jailed, the Box Elder County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday.

Rex Iverson, 45, of Bear River City, was picked up at his home Jan. 23 and taken to the Box Elder County Jail after ignoring a $350 justice court bench warrant over an unpaid $2,400 Tremonton City Ambulance bill. He was found unresponsive in a jail holding cell later that day.

Chief Deputy Sheriff Dale Ward announced Wednesday the results of a 10-month investigation, saying the state Medical Examiner’s Office determined Iverson died of suicide by strychnine poisoning.

Acquaintances told investigators Iverson said “if he were ever arrested that he would ingest a poison ... to take his own life so that he would not have to go to jail,” Ward said.

A search of Iverson’s home turned up a bottle labeled “sodium cyanide” that an analysis showed contained strychnine, Ward said. Deputies also found some unused, empty gel capsules.

“At some point Mr. Iverson ingested an unknown and fatal amount of strychnine, likely contained in gel capsules,” Ward said. 

RELATED: Man who died in Box Elder jail was there for not paying a debt

He said the capsules were so small they were not detected in several pat-down searches after Iverson’s arrest and before he was found dead. Iverson could have swallowed the capsules at any time while deputies were not directly watching him during his detainment, Ward said.

A deputy spoke to Iverson at 1:10 p.m. in the holding cell to determine if he would be able to post bail, Ward said. When the deputy returned 30 minutes later to complete the booking process, Iverson was unresponsive. Authorities said at the time the cause of death was unknown and there was no evidence of foul play.

“It appears that Mr. Iverson had pre-planned this type of situation and had reached a conclusion as to what he would do,” Ward said.

The Northern Utah Critical Incident Team investigated the case. The Brigham City Police Department and Cache County Sheriff’s Office participated in the investigation, which Ward said took months to complete because authorities were waiting for toxicology and autopsy findings.

The team said Box Elder deputies and jailers followed proper procedures in arresting and jailing Iverson.

Iverson, who lived alone, was unemployed and had several justice court civil cases on his record, according to state court files. Tremonton City obtained a default judgment against Iverson for the unpaid ambulance bill and Justice Court Judge Kevin Christensen issued a bench warrant for his arrest in December 2015.

The man’s death sparked a debate about the practice of jailing people on civil judgments, including those for unpaid debts. 

Richard Schwermer, assistant state courts administrator, said in a February interview that the system provides tools for the winner of a judgment to collect a debt, as well as repeated chances for a defaulter to avoid jail.

Civil liberties groups voiced concerns that justice court defendants’ constitutional rights are treated blithely and that jailing debtors is self-defeating because they most often have no money anyway.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt and like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SEmarkshenefelt.

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