Undercover Cleveland drug detective killed in shooting; 2 arrested

CLEVELAND (AP) — A Cleveland police detective who had just been sworn in as a member of a federal violence task force was killed along with another person while working undercover in a drug operation, officials said Friday.

Two people were arrested and the search continued for a third, according to a published report.

The names of those arrested and the charges they may face in the shooting that killed Detective James Skernivitz, 53, have not been released, according to Cleveland.com, which cited three unnamed sources in its reporting.

The news outlet also reported that city police were serving search warrants as they investigated.

Skernivitz was shot around 10 p.m. Thursday on the city’s west side. A Cleveland police official knowledgeable about details of the shooting, but who was not authorized to speak publicly, told The Associated Press that Skernivitz was working undercover in a drug operation.

Police Chief Calvin Williams told reporters that Skernivitz was with the department for 25 years, saying, “Cleveland lost one of its finest.”

Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association President Jeff Follmer said a second person, who was not an officer but was in Skernivitz’s car, also died. Details about that person weren’t released.

FBI spokeswoman Vicki Anderson said Skernivitz and other law enforcement officers had been sworn in Wednesday at the Cleveland FBI office to become members of the FBI’s Violent Crime Task Force in support of Operation Legend, a Justice Department effort to crack down on violent crime in a number of U.S. cities, including Cleveland.

Anderson would not say whether Skernivitz was killed during a task force operation.

Cleveland-based U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said Thursday that 54 defendants have been charged criminally, including 39 people for drug-related offenses, since Operation Legend got underway in Cleveland on July 29.

Investigators appealed to the public for help in finding a suspect or suspects. The FBI in Cleveland offered a cash reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Gov. Mike DeWine ordered the U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at public buildings in Cuyahoga County and at the Statehouse in Columbus.

It has been more than 10 years since an on-duty Cleveland police officer was fatally shot.

Patrol Officer Derek Owens, 36, was killed in February 2008 while chasing a suspect. Owens caught up to the man, who turned and shot Owens in the abdomen below his bulletproof vest.

The man was found guilty of aggravated murder and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole.


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