Two Plead Guilty To Civil Rights Offenses
PITTSBURGH, Pa. ‑ Acting United States Attorney Robert S. Cessar announced today, July 12, 2010, that defendants Richard Heitzenrater, a resident of Ambridge, Pennsylvania, and Robert Kuzma, a resident of Economy Borough, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty in federal court to charges related to federal civil rights offenses.
Heitzenrater, 61, and Kuzma, 51, each pleaded guilty to one count before United States District Judge Terrence F. McVerry.
In connection with the guilty plea, Assistant United States Attorney Soo C. Song advised the court that on February 20, 2009, Heitzenrater, while a Sergeant with the Ambridge Police Department, violated the civil rights of arrestee David Baker by entering the locked holding cell where Baker was being held multiple times and striking him. Prior to entering the holding cell, Heitzenrater turned off the lights, partially obscuring the view on the police station's digital video recording system. Other officers eventually intervened to remove Heitzenrater from the holding cell.
Lieutenant Kuzma was informed, from Heitzenrater and others, about the assault upon Baker. The following day, February 21, 2009, Kuzma, the primary person with access to the station's digital video recording system, purged its contents, including the incriminating images from February 20, 2009. Prior to deleting data on the recording system, the contents were played back and viewed by Heitzenrater and Kuzma at the police station, as Kuzma consulted the instruction manual. On February 20, 2009, following the assault, Heitzenrater contacted Kuzma on the telephone to ask whether the video recording of the cell could be enhanced if the lights in the cell had been turned off. As a result of Kuzma's actions, neither the FBI nor a forensic expert with the Pennsylvania State Police were able to recover images of the assault from the recording system.
Judge McVerry scheduled sentencing for November 12, 2010, at 9:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. The law provides for a total sentence of one year in prison for Heitzenrater, six months in prison for Kuzma, fines of $100,000 and $5,000, respectively, or both. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed is based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the criminal history, if any, of the defendant.
Pending sentencing, the court continued Heitzenrater and Kuzma on $30,000 bond.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, aided by the Pennsylvania State Police, conducted the investigation that led to the prosecution of Heitzenrater and Kuzma.