Trial looms over five year anniversary of Provo police officer slaying

Jan 30, 2024, 2:40 PM | Updated: Jan 31, 2024, 9:59 am

SALT LAKE CITY — January marks five years since Provo police officer Joseph Shinners was killed in the line of duty.

The anniversary comes at the heels of the trial for the man accused of his murder, Matt Frank Hoover, 45. Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Feb. 27 with opening statements slated for Feb. 29.

Hoover has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges including aggravated murder, a first-degree felony; possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person, a second-degree felony; and failure to stop at the command of police and drug possession, third-degree felonies.

The case will be presided over by 4th District Judge Kraig Powell.

In December 2022, Powell reluctantly agreed to postpone the trial.

“I’m ready for it. I know the family is ready for it, the department is ready for it,” said Chief Rich Ferguson with the Draper City Police Department. “It’s time, and of course I support the criminal justice system and I believe that the process will play out and that it will be a measure of closure for all of us.”

Ferguson was the chief of police in Provo at the time of Shinners’ death. On Jan. 5, 2019, Shinners, a three-year veteran, was shot while attempting to arrest Hoover, a wanted felon, in the parking lot of a Bed Bath and Beyond in Orem.

In an email statement to KSL TV, Tim Taylor, spokesperson for the Utah County Attorney’s Office, said they were “looking forward to bringing the case to a conclusion after five years.”

The trial is expected to last three weeks and will include an eight-person jury since prosecutors will not be seeking the death penalty, which requires a 12-person jury. In September 2021, then/former County Attorney David Leavitt announced he would no longer be seeking the death penalty in multiple cases including the prosecution against Hoover.

Utah County Attorney announces he will no longer seek the death penalty

Prosecutors have said they will seek a life sentence without parole for Hoover.

On Monday, Ferguson, joined by three officers who served with Shinners, discussed the profound impact of his death and their feelings on Hoover’s upcoming trial.

“When you think Jan. 5 was five years since his death, it really does feel overdue,” said Detective Alex Felsing of the Herriman Police Department, who served with Shinners in the Provo Police Department and considered him his best friend. “This is a wound that has in some ways remained open for many of us.”

For Ferguson, who oversaw the department of 120 officers, the loss had a ripple effect across his department and Utah’s law enforcement community.

“I’d like to think that the Provo Police Department was a very tight police department where people valued each other, cared about each other and worked together really well. But when Joe was killed, it truly did bring us together even closer,”  Ferguson said.

“He’s the cop that you would want during your family’s crucible moment to show up. He took care of people,” Ferguson said.

From gathering at the hospital the night Shinners was killed, to his funeral services, and into the years that followed, Provo officers have maintained a strong connection to Shinners’ widow, Kaylyn, and their children.

Days after Shinners’ funeral, Kaylyn learned she was pregnant with their second son. The Provo Police Department celebrated the birth of their baby boy. Over the years, officers have held memorials on the anniversary of Shinners’ death and helped in walking his older son to school on his first day. This year, to mark the fifth anniversary of his death, the police department went ice skating, one of Shinners’ favorite hobbies, with his family.

“We try to do our best, you know maybe a hundred weird uncles can equal a fraction of a Joe,” said Felsing. “But it’s a bittersweet thing to watch the boys grow up. You know deep down that they deserve Joe.”

Sgt. Carter Grow, of the Provo Police Department, trained with Shinners on the SWAT Team and echoed the sentiments that Shinners was someone one would entrust their family to.

“With Joe, it was hands down, I would trust him with everything. I would trust him with my wife and children, to take care of them if something was wrong,” Grow said. To this day, Grow wears a cuff bracelet in honor of Shinners and carries his photograph in his pocket on every shift.

The officers recalled a time when Shinners stayed late after a shift to help a woman find a place to stay the night. Shinners paid $60 for the woman to sleep at a hotel.

On another occasion, a man who had been recently arrested started sobbing asking for a hug so Shinners helped him out of the patrol car and gave him a long embrace.

“He just had a lot of those natural intangible things that make a good police officer,” Grow said. He pointed to Shinners’ family ties in the law enforcement community as a possible reason behind his passion for police work.

Sgt. Austin Rowberry with Provo police worked on several night shifts with Shinners. Rowberry treasures a video he made with Shinners during a night shift when a popular Spanish song came on the radio.

Rowberry had worked with Shinners in attempting to apprehend Hoover in the days leading up to the shooting.

“It just hadn’t panned out the way we had tried to get it to work … Had some of our prior attempts worked, maybe [the shooting] would never have happened,” Rowberry said.

Rowberry rushed to the hospital the night Shinners was shot.

“At that point, Joe was still was in surgery and so there wasn’t the looming outcome yet. But when the news was delivered by the doctor that was when my immediate reaction was anger and reality kicking in,” Rowberry said. “But, we had some great leadership that pulled us together and tried to make sure we were all on the same page of what needed to be done. The next several hours we stayed until we could provide a cordon to the mortuary.”

Amid their grief, Grow said there was some healing found in the outpouring of community love and support.

“I learned that there’s more good people in the world than there are bad through that situation,” Grow said. “I can’t tell you how many people… and a citizen would just come give me a hug, shake my hand, look me in the eye and tell me ‘I’m sorry.’”

“Going through the funeral procession and seeing everybody taking time out of their day to line up on the freeway, fly flags and salute us — thousands of people — I mean I was really touched.” Grow continued, “Instead of being so angry and bitter it turned to ‘this was one bad dude out there that did something and that’s not representative of what everybody is.’ That was my silver lining.”

“Even though Joe was dead,” Grow said. “He still brought me something special.”

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Trial looms over five year anniversary of Provo police officer slaying