Officers Memorial Fund has announced the selection of Patrolman James Kuzak, Jr., of the City of Clairton (Pa.) Police Department as its Officer of the Month for July 2012.
On April 4, 2011, officers from the City of Clairton Police Department responded to a domestic disturbance call at a local residence. While en route to the home, dispatch informed Patrolman James Kuzak and Officers Matthew McDanel and Jonathan Steiner that the incident was actually a home invasion. They arrived on the scene and quickly discovered the suspects were still inside the house.
The three officers split up—Officers McDanel and Steiner remained in front of the home, while Patrolman Kuzak entered the yard and headed for the back of the house. As he approached the rear door, he made contact with the suspects, who held a man, a woman and their children at gunpoint. Patrolman Kuzak ordered the gunmen to exit the residence. Hearing Patrolman Kuzak’s orders, Officer McDanel came to the back of the house to assist. Without warning, the suspects opened fire, striking Patrolman Kuzak five times at close range in the chest and arm. Patrolman Kuzak wore protective equipment, but one bullet struck him and was lodged near his spine, leaving him critically wounded and paralyzed from the waist down.
Patrolman Kuzak was transported to a nearby hospital where he spent more than six weeks undergoing surgery and rehabilitation. Although the suspects escaped from the house and initially evaded capture, they were eventually arrested, charged and are awaiting trial. The subsequent investigation of the incident concluded that Patrolman Kuzak’s actions prevented serious crimes against the innocent residents of the home. Patrolman Kuzak is optimistic that he will regain full use of his legs. He is currently undergoing physical therapy and can walk with the assistance of crutches.
According to Officer McDanel, Patrolman Kuzak has been an inspiration to everyone in the department through his ability to persevere and maintain a positive outlook in spite of his injuries, as well as his determination to attend all the court appearances and face the two individuals accused of injuring him.
Patrolman Kuzak is unwavering in his desire to stay active in law enforcement and serve the community. Although he understands he might never return to full active duty, he completed Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) training since sustaining his injuries. Should the unimaginable happen, and a similar tragedy takes place in his community, he can assist other officers and their families through those very tough times. Always an optimist, Patrolman Kuzak believes that if anything good resulted from his encounter with the two gunmen, it was opportunity to shine a light on the law enforcement profession and raise awareness of the courage and bravery of the men and women who serve.
Patrolman James Kuzak, Jr. served with the City of Clairton Police Department for one year. Prior to joining the Clairton Police Department, Patrolman Kuzak worked with the Peters Township (PA) Police Department for 13 years; totaling 18 years of law enforcement experience.
Located in the nation’s capital, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund is a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring the service and sacrifice of America’s law enforcement officers. The Memorial Fund’s Officer of the Month Program began in September 1996 and recognizes federal, state and local officers who distinguish themselves through exemplary law enforcement service and devotion to duty.
Patrolman Kuzak, along with the other Officers of the Month for 2012, will be honored at a special awards luncheon in Washington, DC in May 2013 during National Police Week. In addition, their stories of heroism and service will be featured in the Memorial Fund’s annual calendar.