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'Heroes' documentary tells tale of Clairton officer, others

Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Clairton officer James Kuzak poses for a portrait in front of the poster for the film, “Heroes Behind the Badge: Sacrifice & Survival” when the film is being screened at Heinz Field, Saturday, April 5, 2014. Kuzak is featured in the film about officers who were wounded or killed in the line of duty.

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By Jennifer R. Vertullo
Saturday, April 5, 2014, 11:54 p.m.

Clairton police officer James Kuzak Jr. sat humbled by the overwhelming support of friends, family and fellow law enforcement officers as he relived the night when a His story, and those of four others wounded or killed in the line of duty, were told through a documentary film at the Pittsburgh premier of “Heroes Behind the Badge: Sacrifice & Survival” on Saturday at Heinz Field.

“It feels beyond words to see all the people who are willing to come here to see me in a documentary,” Kuzak said. “I expected to see a few people, but everyone I can imagine is here. It's humbling.”

Preceded by an Allegheny County FOP Lodge 91 Honor Guard and the Greater Pittsburgh Police Emerald Society Pipes and Drums, the film opened with the statistic that an officer is injured or killed in a felonious assault every 33 minutes.

“Heroes Behind the Badge” offered Kuzak, other officers and their families an opportunity to share emotional aspects of officers putting their lives on the line for the public.

The film took Kuzak back to the Miller Avenue property where he was critically wounded. He believes the paralysis was his sacrifice in saving a family that could have been killed if police didn't intervene.

“I didn't know that the last time I walked off these four steps was going to be the last time I ever walked,” he said. Tears welled in his eyes as he looked at the back yard where he was shot five times.

The film covers his physical therapy and medical diagnosis, along with the emotional support system anchored by his girlfriend Cris Okluanis and parents Beverly Kuzak and James Kuzak Sr.

“After seeing this movie, I know my family is fortunate,” his father James Kuzak Sr. said. “These other families would give everything they have to have what we have with Jimmy.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or

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