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Hero Down: Cleveland Police Det. James Skernivitz Murdered While Working Undercover Detail

Cleveland, OH – Cleveland Police Department (CPD) Detective James Skernivitz was murdered in the line of duty while working on an undercover drug deal on Thursday night, according to police.

The attack occurred in the area of Storer Avenue and West 65th Street at approximately 10 p.m. on Sept. 3, WKYC reported.

The 53-year-old detective worked as an undercover officer, and had just been sworn in as a member of a federal task force one day earlier, Cleveland Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) spokesperson Vicki Anderson told The New York Times.

Det. Skernivitz and the unnamed 50-year-old male passenger in his vehicle were both fatally shot during the incident, Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelly and Safety Committee Chair Matt Zone said in a joint statement to WKYC.

Investigators said the passenger was an informant, and that he and Det. Skernivitz were ambushed while they were sitting in the detective’s vehicle, working on an undercover drug deal, WOIO reported.

The passenger was pronounced dead at the scene, WEWS reported.

Det. Skernivitz was rushed to MetroHealth Medical Center, where he succumbed to his wounds, a Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association spokesperson told WEWS.

Police said they have arrested one suspect in connection with the attack, according to WKYC.

They are still searching for two other suspects, WOIO reported.

No other details were immediately available.

Det. Skernivitz served the CPD for nearly three decades, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish told WKYC.

“My heart goes out to the family, friends and fellow police officers who knew Detective James Skernivitz,” Budish said. “Detective Skernivitz served 28 years on the Cleveland Police Force—as an undercover officer he was on the front lines of important work against gangs. Last night he was shot down.”

“Police officers throughout the country put their lives on the line every day to protect us from crime and danger. That statement should not be a flashpoint or controversial—unfortunately, these days it is,” Budish added. “I am grateful for Detective Skernivitz’s service and I pray for his family. May he rest in peace.”

CPD Chief Calvin Williams said that Det. Skernivitz was a valued member of the department, WKYC reported.

“Cleveland lost one of its finest tonight in the line of duty,” Chief Williams said on Thursday. “This officer was out doing what all police officers do – trying protecting the people of this city – and he gave his life.”

He was also a member of the CPD’s gang impact unit, as well as the agency’s honor guard, WOIO reported.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told WKYC that Det. Skernivitz “gave his life trying to keep danger off the streets of Cleveland,” WKYC reported.

“This tragedy shows once again the valor and honor of the police — and that there are yet dangerous, evil men in the world who must be brought to justice,” Yost continued. “My heart breaks for his family and I pray that in their grief, they find solace in his legacy of service and sacrifice.”

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine ordered that flags be lowered to half-staff in Det. Skernivitz’s honor, WKYC reported.

Det. Skernivitz leaves behind his wife and two adult children, WOIO reported.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Cleveland Police Department Detective James Skernivitz, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.

Detective James Skernivitz, your life mattered.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin


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