MOTORCYCLE OFFICER HERMAN W. "DUTCH" SEVERTSEN
SDPD 07/21/1942 - 06/22/1948
1912 - 06/22/1948
June 22, 1948.  The day began like almost any other day in San Diego, warm and sunny.  The biggest local news was the announcement of the arrest of a 41-year-old man from a 1928 murder case. That would soon change. By 11:20 that night a cop would be dead and unanswered questions would remain more than a half century later.

Herman W. Severtsen was 32-years-old when he was hired as a patrolman on July 21, 1942.  Like all other policemen of his era, he had little background investigation and no formal  training.

After spending a little more than a year as a patrolman, Severtsen was appointed a motorcycle officer in September 1943.

On June 22, 1948, Motorcycle Officer Severtsen was assigned to the night shift. At 11:00 p.m., he stopped at 2720 Logan Avenue to pay a social visit to Beatrice “Lupe” Rodriguez.  Lupe Rodriguez was a visitor to the Rodriguez family (no relation) who resided there.  At some point Officer Severtsen’s visit took him into the bedroom of the house where he sat on the edge of a bed talking to her.  Across the room, nine-year-old Danny Rodriguez lay in bed asleep. 

There are two stories as to what happened next.

Story number one was Lupe Rodriguez told Officer Severtsen she was having trouble at her job and she didn’t know what to do.  Jokingly, Officer Severtsen removed his .38 service revolver and handed it to her commenting, “Maybe you should try using this."

As Lupe took the gun into her hand, she juggled it.  At the same time Officer Severtsen, in what the Medical Examiners office would later refer to as “a spirit of bravado”, looked down the barrel of the gun.  According to Lupe the gun went off striking Officer Severtsen in the eye killing him instantly.

The second story is Officer Severtsen and Rodriguez were sitting across from each other on the bed playing an odd version of Russian roulette in which the two would spin the chamber of the gun, point it at the other person and pull the trigger.  When Lupe took her turn and pulled the trigger, the gun went off hitting Severtsen in the eye.

Whichever story is true, Lupe ran from the house. The gunshot woke Danny up to find the dead officer on the floor.  When patrol officers arrived, they found Officer Severtsen but Lupe was gone.  Homicide detectives were notified who in turn notified Chief Jansen.  In the meantime, Lupe returned back to the house where she told officers she ran away because she was afraid.   Other than finding the dead officer, Danny was unable to offer anything more to the investigation.

The investigation by the Medical Examiner determined Officer Severtsen was “killed by a .38 caliber wound to the eye resulting in immediate death.” The report followed the scenario in which the officer looked down the barrel of the gun just as it discharged.  The report specifically mentioned there were no powder burns to Officer Severtsen’s face, something that surely would have occurred had the gun been as close to his face as mentioned in scenario number one.


So what really happened? 

If it were scenario number one, an accidental death would be cause to be added to the California state police memorial.  To date that hasn’t happened.  Also, if scenario number one were true, why weren’t there powder burns to Officer Severtsen’s face? Scenario number two becomes equally strange when you stop to contemplate why a police officer would engage in such a bizarre game that could easily result in death.

Less than five hours after the killing, the morning edition of the San Diego Union headlined, “San Diego Policeman Shot to Death.”  The story detailed how Severtsen stopped to visit Lupe and was accidentally shot to death when he handed her his service revolver.  The newspaper reported Officer Severtsen’s death was ruled completely accidental and no charges were requested against Lupe Rodriguez.

THE THIN BLUE LINE
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