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Cleveland Police Officer Shot And Killed On West Side

Cleveland police say an investigation is ongoing after an officer was shot and killed Thursday night. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
Cleveland police say an investigation is ongoing after an officer was shot and killed Thursday night.

Updated: 5:05 p.m., Friday, Sept. 4, 2020

Cleveland police have taken three people into custody in connection with the Thursday night fatal shooting of 53-year-old Det. James Skernivitz, city officials said Friday afternoon.

Authorities arrested two juveniles and one adult on unrelated warrants, considering them people of interest in the ongoing investigation, Safety Director Karrie Howard said.

In a separate incident, another police officer, Nicholas Sabo, died by suicide Thursday, officials said.

A somber Police Chief Calvin William worked to maintain composure as he remembered the two fallen officers.

“I don’t think anybody out there can really understand what the Division is going through,” Police Chief Calvin Williams said in a livestreamed news conference. “The loss of an officer in the line of duty, especially to violence, is a terrible tragedy. But two officers in one night is really bad.”

Skernivitz was shot in the torso around 10 p.m. Thursday night near West 65th Street and Storer Avenue, according to police and the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner.

A 22-year veteran of the force, Skernivitz served in the Gang Impact Unit and had recently become a violent crimes task force officer as part of Operation Legend, the federal policing initiative.

Williams called Skernivitz a “policeman’s policeman” who “did the work the way it should’ve been done.” He leaves behind a wife and two adult children, officials said.

“He worked hard for the city that he loved,” Williams said. “He worked hard to take care of his family, and he worked hard to take care of his fellow officers.”

Cleveland police took Skernivitz to MetroHealth Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, according to the medical examiner. He suffered damage to his heart and lungs.

In a Friday press release, U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr confirmed Skernivitz’s assignment to Operation Legend and expressed his condolences.

“Two weeks ago, I had the honor of visiting the unit where Det. Skernivitz was assigned. I was briefed on the critical work that he and his colleagues do to keep our streets safe from violent crime. Det. Skernivitz selflessly gave his life in this cause,” Barr said. “It takes a special kind of courage to be a police officer. Our men and women in blue put their lives on the line day after day in order to keep us safe. We will not forget Det. Skernivitz and his life of service and sacrifice. I send my heartfelt condolences to his wife, children, and family.”

City officials declined to elaborate on Skernivitz’s assignment that night, nor did they confirm reports that a second person – not another police officer – had been killed alongside him.

According to the medical examiner, 50-year-old Scott Dingess was transported to MetroHealth from the same area and pronounced dead Thursday night. His death, like Skernivitz’s, was an apparent homicide, the medical examiner’s office said.

“This investigation remains in its early stages, and additional information may be released when it becomes available,” Howard said.

He urged those with information on the shooting to call the FBI’s tip line at 216-622-6842.

“Cleveland lost one of its finest tonight in the line of duty,” Police Chief Calvin Williams told news media Thursday night. “We definitely need the prayers of the people in this city. This officer was out doing what all police officers do: trying to protect the people of this city. And he gave his life.”

Mayor Frank Jackson also spoke to media Thursday night.

“Personally, I want to give my condolences to the family, and on behalf of the city of Cleveland,” Jackson said.

Sabo, who also leaves behind a wife and children, was an officer in the Columbus area who transferred to the Cleveland police force, Williams said.

“He’s a person that wanted to work in the city of Cleveland, and we appreciate that,” Williams said.

Howard said that anyone in crisis should call the Cuyahoga County suicide hotline at 216-623-6888. Help is also available by texting 4Hope to 741741, he said.

Officers in need of help can call the police department’s employee assistance unit, Williams said.

“Any officer out there that needs help, they need to give us a call,” Williams said.

Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday morning ordered U.S. and Ohio state flags be flown at half-staff at all public buildings and grounds in Cuyahoga County and at the Ohio Statehouse, and other public buildings across the state. Flags will remain lowered until sunset on the day of Skernivitz’s funeral, according to a press release.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.