ICE agent was fatally shot during struggle for gun

February 18, 2012 - 8:55 PM
Federal Building Shooting

Homeland Security police cars are shown parked outside the Long Beach, Calif., Federal Courthouse Friday, Feb. 17, 2012 in Long Beach, Calif. On Thursday an agent shot another agent who was then shot and killed by a third agent. The wounded agent was hospitalized. This shooting at the federal building of a high-ranking Immigration and Customs Enforcement official was over an unspecified disciplinary matter, a person familiar with the case said. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — An Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent accused of shooting a supervisor died after an "intense" struggle for his gun with a colleague who burst into the office after he heard shots fired, an official said Saturday.

The shooting Thursday happened after Ezequiel Garcia had a discussion about his job performance with ICE's second-in-command in the Los Angeles region, agency spokeswoman Virginia Kice said. Another agent who attended the meeting had just left the office and rushed back after the shots rang to disarm Garcia.

"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 to recover 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.

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. Before he could go home, though, he had to meet with a high-ranking supervisor about his job performance.

Garcia's wife, Balbina, told the newspaper on Friday that the couple were going through a divorce after 14 years of marriage but trying to work things out.

"He never made it home," she said.

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 when the subdivision was built 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."

Tjaden was friendly with Garcia's wife, who once brought her tamales. Garcia's wife spoke limited English and gave Tjaden a chance to practice her Spanish.

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 against Garcia and the other agent.

The lawsuit alleges that the other agent was sitting in an unmarked car when officers handcuffed and threatened to shoot him. When Garcia arrived, police allegedly put him 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 treatment of his shoulder and "numerous bruises and contusions."

"If this could happen to me, then ordinary citizens have even more reason to fear for their own safety," Garcia told the Los Angeles 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. Some of his supervisors traveled some distances to testify," he said.

The shooting erupted after Garcia "was being counseled about some job performance issues," Kice said. She said she didn't know what those issues were and could not 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 information about transfers due to security reasons, Kice has said.

Los Angeles police officers who work in the building responded to a call for help over the public address system and aided the bleeding Kozak, Kice said. The officers are assigned to a joint task force for Internet crimes against children.

"The fact that they were literally right there probably was another thing that was instrumental in (Kozak's) survival," she said.

Kozak, who began his career with Treasury's customs bureau nearly 30 years ago, has been ICE's second-in-command in Los Angeles since 2004.

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Spagat reported from Murrieta, Calif. Associated Press writer Greg Risling contributed to this report.