Man gets 50-100 years for home invasion that left Clairton officer paralyzed
A Clairton police officer shot and paralyzed during a home invasion said he thinks he'll eventually talk with one of the men involved, who declared himself victimized by a lengthy prison sentence on Thursday.
“If he sees himself as a victim, he needs to spend some time talking to me,” Officer James Kuzak Jr. said outside an Allegheny County courtroom after the hearing for Emilio Rivera, a career criminal who prosecutors said spent time in prison for a failed murder conspiracy a decade ago.
Common Pleas Judge Edward J. Borkowski sentenced Rivera, 27, of McKees Rocks to 50 to 100 years in prison, calling him “a decidedly dangerous and incorrigible person.”
Given a chance to speak, Rivera told the judge that he's a victim, not a criminal.
“I honestly feel like there will never be justice for this case when all you have are victims,” he said.
A jury in August convicted Rivera of burglary, robbery, unlawful restraint and reckless endangerment but acquitted him of shooting Kuzak. The same jury acquitted a second man charged in the home invasion of all counts.
Still, Kuzak said after the sentencing: “The person who knows he shot me is going to spend the rest of his life in prison.”
A fleeing gunman shot Kuzak, 40, of Rostraver five times when he and two other officers responded to a call that two men had forced their way into a duplex. The intruders beat and robbed a man living there, sexually assaulted a woman, and threatened to shoot two children.
Paralyzed from the waist down, Kuzak uses a wheelchair and resumed rigorous physical therapy after Rivera's five-week trial. He spends much of his time talking to community groups and said he feels blessed and grateful that people genuinely express concern for his wellbeing.
“I'm here,” he said. “I'm doing well.”
More than two dozen of Rivera's relatives and friends gathered outside Borkowski's courtroom to decry the sentence.
“The sentence was very unfair,” said Mayra Rivera, his mother. “My son was innocent. He did nothing.”
Deputy District Attorney Dan Fitzsimmons detailed Rivera's history of crimes, which began with stealing a car at 13. Since then, Fitzsimmons said, Rivera “has engaged in a continuous series, and escalating series, of violent offenses” involving guns and drugs.
Kuzak said the sentence was scary because it effectively ends Rivera's life, but it shows the system works despite Rivera's acquittal on shooting charges.
A 20-year police veteran, Kuzak said he hopes to pass along lessons to younger officers. His physical therapy took a hit during the trial, but his condition is improving since starting over, Kuzak said.
He yearns to repay his family for the sacrifices they made while he patrolled and during his recovery.
He plans to “keep having fun, see where I can go — whether it's walking, sitting or rolling.”
Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Attorney wants evidence from South Allegheny teacher’s cellphone thrown out
- Buffalo man killed by truck in the West End Circle wanted ‘a fresh start’
- Maryland man found with missing Ohio girl in Pittsburgh motel
- Pittsburgh police chief finds use-of-force policies ‘quite satisfactory’
- Police find marijuana grow rooms in Castle Shannon
- Terror threat doesn’t keep Pittsburgh International travelers down
- 2nd command officer at Allegheny County Jail punished
- Pittsburgh on cusp of leaving fiscal oversight
- In letter, Plum school superintendent reassures parents on safety
- North Side stabber sentenced to 20 to 40 years
- McCullough’s attorney alleges ‘peculiar’ behavior of judge in withdrawn motion