On the evening of December 15, 1961, Constable Iver Johanson suffered a fatal heart attack while struggling with an intoxicated, combative suspect.
“Officer Dies in Struggle with Suspect” read the front page headline of the December 21, 1961 Selma Enterprise. The article explained that while patrolling through the Freeway Lanes bowling alley parking lot, located at Dinuba Avenue and Highway 99, Constable Johanson observed a hit and run accident involving a vehicle driven by Robert Charles Ortiz. Ortiz failed to stop and exited the parking lot with Johanson in pursuit. Constable Johanson activated his vehicle’s emergency equipment and followed Ortiz a short distance onto Highway 99 where Ortiz finally yielded.
Deputy Constable Alex Lopez, who was on foot near Freeway Lanes, observed the vehicle stop and Constable Johanson having conversation with Ortiz. Johanson successfully removed the combative Ortiz from his vehicle and managed to handcuff one of Ortiz’s hands when Ortiz increased his resistance. Lopez went to Johanson’s assistance. A fight ensued during which Constable Johanson was attacked with his own blackjack. Johanson was knocked to the ground and was semi-conscious while Lopez and Ortiz fought. Lopez recovered Johanson’s blackjack and used it to subdue Ortiz. Ortiz was booked into the Fresno County Jail on numerous charges.
Constable Johanson was transported to Selma District Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Iver Johanson was born in Sweden on June 14, 1904, immigrated with his family to the United States in 1905, and grew up in Fresno County. Johanson, a twenty-year law enforcement veteran had been a police officer for the City of Selma and was elected Constable in 1950. Johanson was survived by his wife and stepson.