CLEVELAND, Ohio— The veteran Cleveland police officer killed late Thursday was working undercover when someone opened fire on his car, killing him and a man inside his car, according to three law enforcement sources.
Det. James Skernivitz worked in the police department’s gang unit and worked undercover. Gang unit detectives do not wear body cameras, dress in plain clothes and drive unmarked cars.
The three sources said the man who died inside his car was an informant working with Skernivitz. Police and the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office have not released his identity.
An unknown person shot both men as they sat inside the car. Skernivitiz drove away and crashed his car.
Cleveland police have not yet released much information on the case. The shooting happened about 10 p.m. Thursday on West 65th Street near Storer Avenue.
Police have not announced any arrests in the case.
The FBI and Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation assisted Cleveland police homicide detectives at the scene.
On Friday, the FBI set up a 24-hour tip line urging anyone with information on the shooting call. Callers can remain anonymous.
Skernivitz was hired in 1998 and previously worked in the Third District before taking a position on the gang unit.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost issued a statement Friday morning on the shooting.
“Detective Skernivitz gave his life trying to keep danger off the streets of Cleveland,” Yost said. “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. My heart breaks for his family, and I pray that in their grief, they find solace in his legacy of service and sacrifice.”
Skernivitz is the first on-duty Cleveland police officer to die since Vu Nguyen died in July 2017 after he collapsed of heatstroke during a training exercise. He’s the first officer killed on duty since Derek Owens on Feb. 29, 2008.
Lamidi Kafaru fatally shot Owens as Owens chased after him after breaking up a party and witnessing a drug deal. Kafaru is serving a sentence of life in prison without parole eligibility.
The FBI’s tip line is 216-622-6842.
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