Provo • Before police say he killed an officer earlier this month, Matt Frank Hoover talked often to his friends about how he wanted to have a fiery shootout with law enforcement like one from his favorite movie, “Natural Born Killers.”
A fugitive, he didn’t want to go back to jail, he said. If cornered, he would prefer “suicide by cop,” he told them. And so he planned out what he would do if pulled over, carrying around a silver gun with a purple grip that he had referred to as his “purple people eater.”
Police say Hoover lived out that fantasy, in part, when two officers tried to arrest him on warrants Jan. 5 in Orem, and the fugitive shot Provo Officer Joseph Shinners once in the chest. Shinners returned fire before he fell. He died later at a hospital.
Hoover, a 40-year-old Fillmore man, was hit in the abdomen and has since recovered after officers provided first aid at the scene. He was booked into the Utah County jail this week. Prosecutors charged him Wednesday with aggravated murder.
He could face the death penalty.
“He won’t get his first choice — at least not yet,” Orem Police Chief Gary Giles said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “He will have to suffer through the prison or the jail that he so badly didn’t want to return to.”
Additionally, Hoover faces six other felony charges that include assaulting a police officer, possessing a dangerous weapon as a restricted person and possessing a controlled substance.
“The defendant will indeed pay for this crime and our society will no longer be endangered by him,” added Utah County Attorney David Leavitt, whose office is pushing the case. Hoover does not yet have a lawyer to represent him.
A probable cause statement filed in court Wednesday provides for the first time a detailed account of the confrontation between Hoover and the two officers that ended in a parking lot of a Bed Bath and Beyond. The documents state that officers approached Hoover’s truck, where he sat with a female passenger, late in the night on Jan. 5 and began “giving Hoover commands to surrender.”
Hoover wouldn’t comply.
An Orem police officer identified in court documents as Edward Estrada then opened the passenger side door of the truck and tried to “physically control” Hoover. He resisted, according to the statements, and put the vehicle in reverse, backing into a police car. He then put the truck in drive and careened forward, swiping a storefront near 50 W. University Parkway.
When the truck stopped, Shinners also entered the passenger side of Hoover’s vehicle to try to subdue the man. It was then that Hoover allegedly pulled out a Ruger .380 semi-automatic pistol — which police have determined was stolen — and fired the gun. A bullet struck Shinners’ left side.
The officer was wearing a ballistic vest, Giles said, but was hit in an area that was uncovered by the protective material.
He returned fire once and struck Hoover in the abdomen. Both men were taken to a hospital for treatment. They stayed in rooms next to each other.
There, Hoover’s blood tested positive for amphetamines and opiates. He recovered. Shinners, 29, died.
Prosecutors will decide after a preliminary hearing whether they will seek Hoover’s execution, if convicted. Leavitt said Wednesday that call is still months away and it’s “premature at this time.” Hoover has an initial court appearance scheduled for Monday.
Hoover has a long criminal history — though until now it was largely nonviolent offenses. He had skipped court hearings in 2018 while on probation for drug and joyriding convictions. Warrants had been issued for his arrest.
Over the past month, too, police say the man had been making threats against law enforcement. The charging documents describe those as Hoover telling friends and his ex-wife how he wanted to shoot an officer, how he would kill anyone who tried to take him back to jail and how he shared a Facebook post that said “F--- THE POLICE.”
The documents also describe how Orem police had tried to arrest Hoover a few days before the fatal shooting, but he fled from police. Officers chose not to pursue him further, Giles said, “after it became too dangerous.”
He said he’s faced questions since the shooting over why Shinners, a Provo officer, was in Orem helping the force there. The agencies from the two neighboring cities often assist each other because “criminals don’t know boundaries,” Giles added. “They don’t know where one city begins and the other end.”
Both the Orem and Provo departments, he said, are trying to recover from the loss of their colleague.
“This is a traumatic situation for all of us,” Giles said. “There was a lot of heroism that night.”
He championed Shinners, who was shot trying to protect the other officer. He heralded the other responding law enforcement agents, who treated Hoover’s wound and stopped the bleeding, likely saving his life.
John Geyerman, a Provo captain, added: “We’re going to focus on healing our police family.”
Shinners was a three-year veteran there. Family members and co-workers have remembered him as a father who liked to snuggle with his baby son and wife Kaylyn, an officer who loved working the graveyard shift and a man who ate doughnuts faster than anyone else on the force.
He is the third Utah officer to die in the line of duty in the past few months. South Salt Lake Police Officer David Romrell was killed Nov. 24, when he was hit by a car in a confrontation with two burglary suspects. In October, Brigham City Assistant Police Chief Dennis Vincent died after having a brain aneurysm and stroke during an annual physical fitness test.
Utah now has lost 145 police officers in the line of duty, five of them from the Provo Police Department.
Leavitt, the Utah County attorney, said he doesn’t want Hoover to gain notoriety in this case. Rather, he wants to recognize Shinners’ service. He has numbered the file FO-3310; the abbreviation stands for fallen officer, the number was on Shinners’ badge.
“There is no adequate way to turn back the clock, to change history and bring Officer Shinners back to us,” he said. “He was at the beginning of what should have been a wonderful career and a long marriage and wonderful memories with a child.”
That was taken away, Leavitt added, by a man who loved violent movies and took “pleasure and delight” at the thought of killing and injuring police officers.
Tribune reporter Jessica Miller contributed to this story.