PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A Clairton police officer wounded while on duty last spring opened up about his experiences today on the heels of an arrest in the case.
Officer James Kuzak continues to recover from his injuries, but says he made the decision that he was not going to die.
News of the arrest was a moment Officer Kuzak had waited six months for.
“First, it was a lot of nervous tension because I got a call but I didn’t get the reason why,” he said. “They were just, ‘Hey, can we come talk to you?” And then, some people showed up, a lot of smiles, said, ‘We got them.’ No ‘maybe we’ve got ‘em;’ not a ‘we hope we’ve got ‘em.’ It was ‘we’ve got him.’”
It was in April of this year that Kuzak was hit and paralyzed while responding to a robbery at a home in Clairton.
On Thursday, Allegheny County detectives announced the arrest of a suspect in connection with the shooting, 26-year-old Emilio Rivera of McKees Rocks.
“I didn’t know it was on my shoulders so much, but as soon as I heard it … that part of my unknown was now done,” Officer Kuzak said. “I realized that I made it through getting shot five times and that this was the person that most likely did it. It’s nice to put a face to something I didn’t know.”
In a near 30 minute press conference, Kuzak spoke of many things – his recovery, his desire to do better for police officers everywhere and the moment that he was hit. The instant where he decided he – not the shooter, not death – would win.
“I said, ‘You know what, excuse me, but there’s no way in hell I’m going to die here,’ he said. “And that’s when I started making myself breath harder.”
Now comes the trial and what Kuzak hopes is justice.
“Justice for him is he’s going to have to look me in the eye,” Officer Kuzak said. “He’s going to have to look at me and know that I’m not defeated, that whatever he did, the action he did, his need to get away, his need to not go back to jail in trying to kill me, didn’t make a difference, and that I’m the one that’s going to come out on top.”