CLEVELAND — He was a father, husband and 'policeman's policeman.' Cleveland Police Detective James Skernivitz was laid to rest today following a funeral service at Rocket Mortgage Field House, where friends and family remembered and celebrated the veteran officer's life.
For 22 years, the late police detective James Skernivitz, who was known by other officers as “Skern," did what he loved doing most: protecting the citizens of Cleveland. On Friday morning, however, the city’s public safety community and scores of everyday citizens returned the favor, paying their solemn respects to the veteran detective who was shot and killed in the line of duty last week.
Police officers and other first responders from Akron to Columbus and everywhere in between also made the trip downtown Friday to say farewell to Det. Skernivitz. The veteran detective joined the Cleveland Division of Police in 1998 and worked in the division’s third and second districts before joining the Gang Impact Unit. Friends, colleagues and his superiors remembered Det. Skernivitz for his unflappable sense of service and his insatiable desire to make the city — his home — a safer place to be.
“He was a policeman’s policeman. He lived his life that way,” said Chief Calvin Williams. “He was out there for our city to try to lift not individuals, not neighborhoods, not groups, but the whole city to a higher, more noble life.”
The 53-year-old detective was shot and killed while working an undercover assignment on Sept. 3 in the 3200 block of West 65th Street. Another man in Skernivitz’s car at the time of the shooting was also killed. Three teenagers, including two juveniles, have been arrested in connection with their deaths.
“This officer was doing what all police officers do—trying to protect the people in the city—and he gave his life,” Williams said earlier this week.
David McDaniel Jr., 18, has been charged with two counts of aggravated murder, according to Cleveland Municipal Court records. He is currently being held in lieu of a $3 million bond. He is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 16 for a preliminary hearing. The 17-year-old has been charged with aggravated murder, murder, robbery as well as felonious assault and assault, according to court records. Additionally, it’s alleged that the teen knew that Skernivitz was an officer before the shooting. The 15-year-old has been charged with aggravated murder, murder, aggravated robbery and felonious assault, court records state.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Smith announced that an investigation aided by tips from the public helped authorities capture the three teens.
“These three individuals will be held accountable for their heinous actions,” said Smith. “Our continued thoughts and prayers to the Skernivitz family and our partners at the Cleveland Division of Police.”
Det. Skernivitz is the first Cleveland police officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty in more than a decade.
Det. Skernivitz was most recently assigned to the Division of Police’s Gang Impact Unit, one of the most dangerous assignments in the entire department. In that position, the veteran detective shined but was never one to seek the limelight. In fact, many of those who knew him best said Det. Skernivitz was more inclined to seek the background instead of the foreground.
“Jim wouldn’t be very happy with all this attention. He was a guy who just liked to be in the background but helped everyone else shine,” said Father Dough Brown, the chaplain for the Division of Police.
Throughout his career, Det. Skernivitz received a series of commendations and special recognition, including a special commendation award in 2001; distinguished service medal in 2002; commanders’ commendations in 2004, 2005 and 2006; another distinguished service medal in 2009 and, finally, he was recognized for ‘outstanding unit of the year’ while part of the Gang Impact Unit in 2014.
Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association President Jeff Follmer said Skernivitz was well-liked and a good man.
“This one hurts,“ Follmer said.
His neighbors in Brecksville called him "just a great guy" and a "community leader."
Just one day before he was shot and killed, Det. Skernivitz was sworn in as a member of a special FBI task force working on Operation Legend, a national initiative to curb violent crime and gang activity. United States Attorney General William Barr also attended Det. Skernivitz’s funeral services, which were held at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in order to accommodate the large crowd while also maintaining social distancing.
“He died serving this city and this country. Both will be forever grateful. He never asked for recognition. He earned it,” Barr said. “Jim represents what is great and good about our police. He was a policeman’s policeman. He epitomized the greatness of our police. It’s the courage we saw 19 years ago on September 11th as officers responded to the attack on the WTC. Jim had that courage.”
DeWine ordered flags in Ohio to be flown at half-staff to honor the detective.
The Cleveland Police Foundation launched a special campaign to raise funds that will go to support the families Skernivitz and Patrolman Nicolas Sabo, who died by suicide the same evening as Skernivitz.
Among all of his responsibilities, however, the one responsibility he enjoyed most was being a husband and father. Det. Skernivitz is survived by his wife, Kristen, his three children and his brother. Although she did not speak at the service, Kristen Skernivitz penned a touching and emotional eulogy, which was read by the late detective’s close friend, Sgt. Mike Bauman of the Brecksville Police Department.
“My God did [his death] sting,” Kristen Skernivitz wrote in the eulogy. “In the midst of all that misery, the sting was soothed recalling Jim’s love his family and friends, the love for his brothers and sisters in blue and the love for the career he never wanted to leave. I don’t think such a thing exists as the right way to die. But, because of Jim, I sure know the right way to live.”
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