Between 2 shootings, ICE agents struggled over gun
The shooting occurred after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Ezequiel Garcia discussed his job performance
By Elliot Spagat and Amy Taxin
LONG BEACH, Calif. — A federal agent accused of shooting a supervisor engaged in a serious struggle for his gun with another colleague who subsequently shot and killed him, an official said.
The shooting occurred after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Ezequiel Garcia discussed his job performance with the agency's second-in-command in the Los Angeles region, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said Saturday.
Another agent who attended the discussion and had just left the office rushed back and burst in to disarm Garcia after the shots rang out.
"There was a very, very intense struggle," Kice said. "They were physically struggling over the gun."
The agent eventually drew his own gun and shot Garcia, Kice said. ICE is not releasing the agent's name.
The supervisor, Kevin Kozak, continued his recovery Saturday from at least six bullet wounds, including to the hand, knee and torso, Kice said. Kozak, 51, is the agency's deputy special agent in charge of investigations in the Los Angeles region.
Los Angeles police officers who work in the building on a joint task force for Internet crimes responded to a call for help and aided the bleeding Kozak, Kice said.
"The fact that they were literally right there probably was another thing that was instrumental in his survival," she said.
Garcia joined the former Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1988 and was named criminal investigator three years later. Shortly after the Department of Homeland Security was created in 2003, he was promoted to supervisor for a documents and benefits fraud task force.
He had told his wife of problems at work but, when she called him at the office Thursday, everything seemed normal, according to the Los Angeles Times. They talked about having Korean barbecue for dinner, but he said he first had to meet with a high-ranking supervisor about his performance.
"He never made it home," said Garcia's wife Balbina. She told the Times the couple were going through a divorce but trying to work things out.
Former neighbors in Murrieta, southeast of Los Angeles, said Saturday that Garcia worked long hours and mostly kept to himself.
"He was friendly enough to wave and say hi, but he didn't have too much time for conversation," said Tim Shepard, 49, who lived across the street.
Neighbors said Garcia moved to the quiet, residential street with his wife and two young boys about eight years ago. About four years ago, he began visiting only on weekends. The family moved about two years ago, though Garcia's wife still regularly returns to visit a friend.
"He worked a lot," said Andrea Tjaden, 45, who lived next door. "He would come home late at night and be gone for days."
Garcia was a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department after he and another immigration agent claimed they were roughed up by officers while doing undercover work. A federal jury found in the police officers' favor in 2005, saying they did not use excessive force.
The lawsuit alleges that officers handcuffed and threatened to shoot the other agent, and put Garcia in a headlock, handcuffed him and forced him into the back of a police car, despite his cries of agony because of an old shoulder injury. Garcia was hospitalized for cuts, bruises and treatment of his shoulder.
"If this could happen to me, then ordinary citizens have even more reason to fear for their own safety," Garcia told the Times when the lawsuit was filed in 2000. "The situation within the LAPD is clearly out of control."
Doug Walters, an attorney who represented Garcia, said he was shocked by his death.
"During the time I worked with Zeke, his supervisors were very supportive of him and the case," Walters said. "Some of his supervisors traveled some distances to testify."
Kice said she didn't know what job performance issues Garcia was counseled about before the shooting, and couldn't disclose them if she did.
A federal official with knowledge of the investigation has told The Associated Press that Kozak denied Garcia's request for an internal transfer. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.
ICE routinely reallocates resources in line with priorities, but does not disclose details for security reasons, Kice has said.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press