Deputy Michael Severson
Photo credit: Polk County Sheriff's Office
A western Wisconsin sheriff's deputy will be eulogized 23 years to the day after he was shot in the jaw and his comrade killed by a gunman on the run from a violent encounter over the border in Minnesota.
Deputy Michael J. Seversen of the Polk County Sheriff's Office died Monday in his lifelong hometown of St. Croix Falls, Wis., the victim of a bullet that left the vibrant and active 27-year-old paralyzed for life from the neck down.
Killed in the encounter in the Burnett County village of Webster on April 19, 1991, was Deputy Allen A. Albee. Other officers on the scene opened fire, killing gunman Robert K. Reineccius on the spot.
"Deputy Seversen's death is classified as a line of duty death," Polk County Sheriff Peter Johnson said Monday, meaning the 50-year-old will receive a funeral with full law enforcement honors. It will be held at Seversen's alma mater, St. Croix High School, on Saturday, the 23rd anniversary of the shootout.
Seversen had "some severe medical issues" lately and was "not stable enough for major surgery" that could have kept him alive, the sheriff said.
Johnson said he's expecting "hundreds of squads" from around Wisconsin and many states, along with "several hundred, if not thousands" of members of law enforcement to attend the services and participate in the 15-mile post-funeral procession to Seversen's final resting place. He will be buried in the Kost Evangelical Free Church graveyard, east of North Branch, Minn., where his parents are also buried.
The prelude to the shootout occurred a day earlier. Reineccius was wanted in connection with a shooting in Chisago County, Minn., that left a 24-year-old man wounded.
Law enforcement in Webster caught up to Reineccius on the street. He shot Seversen, sending a bullet into the deputy's spine from 3 feet away.
Then Reineccius struck Albee, 35, in the hip with a bullet that ricocheted up to the deputy's neck and killed the husband and father of two. That's when law enforcement unleashed its volley on the pistol-toting Reineccius.
Seversen hunted, fished
Despite requiring a mechanically operated "sip and puff" wheelchair for the rest of his life, Seversen lived independently and remained active in the Sheriff's Office, Johnson said. He used a voice-activated computer to open doors, and run the lights, TV and stereo in his home.
Seversen also continued pursuing his passion for hunting and fishing, using "sip and puff" fishing rods and wheelchair-mounted rifles designed by a friend who owns a sporting goods store. He bagged two deer within a year or so of being shot.
"His attitude is what set him apart," said Johnson, who was just starting his law enforcement career and was a reserve deputy in Burnett County at the time of the shootout, allowing others on the force to be dispatched to the confrontation in a residential area.
Seversen, his tenure as a sheriff's deputy halted after four years, traveled and told his story. His message was to show there is life after paralysis.
Still, despondency crept in.
"I'll be honest with you," he said in a 1994 interview with the Star Tribune, "there are many times I go to bed at night and the lights are off and I'll be crying and praying to the Lord to take me home because this is so hard."
In September of that year, Seversen attended the funeral of slain St. Paul officer Ron Ryan Jr. Looking at the number of mourners and law enforcement agencies represented, he wondered at the time, "Would the lines have been this long for me?"
Copyright 2014 - Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
McClatchy-Tribune News Service