Deputy U.S. marshal 'made a choice' to kill man in Fairfax-area alley, prosecutor tells jury

Deputy U.S. marshal 'made a choice' to kill man in Fairfax-area alley, prosecutor tells jury
This video frame from a surveillance camera shows a confrontation between off-duty Deputy U.S. Marshall Matthew Itkowitz, left, and Ryan Gonzalez on March 5, 2008, in an alley off Melrose Avenue. Gonzalez was shot and killed during the confrontation.

A deputy U.S. marshal charged in the 2008 off-duty slaying of a man who intervened in a fight between the lawman and his wife was chasing the man down a Fairfax-area alley when he fatally shot him, then lied about what happened, a federal prosecutor told jurors Wednesday.

During opening statements in the trial, Assistant U.S. Atty. Margaret Carter said Matthew Itkowitz identified himself as a law enforcement officer during a fight with the 26-year-old man before shooting him.

Carter showed jurors a video recording of the shooting in which Itkowitz can be seen removing a gun from the waistband of his pants and holding it behind his right leg as Ryan Gonzalez walks away from him.

In the video, recorded by a wall-mounted security camera in the alley, Gonzalez turns back toward Itkowitz and motions for him to leave when Itkowitz shoots him. Gonzalez was shot five times, including three in his back as he ran away from Itkowitz, Carter said.

“Itkowitz made a choice here, not to walk away but to kill Mr. Gonzalez,” Carter told jurors.

Dressed in a dark suit, Itkowitz sat silently in the downtown federal court — the same building where he used to work as a marshal — and took notes on a legal pad. He faces charges of violating Gonzalez’s civil rights and obstruction of justice.

His attorney, Deputy Federal Public Defender Anne Hwang, said Gonzalez had pulled a gun on Itkowitz during the confrontation and continued to pose a threat as he walked away from the deputy marshal. She said that when Gonzalez turned around, he approached the lawman with an aggressive “jailhouse strut.”

Hwang defended the shooting as a life-or-death struggle. Itkowitz did not know whether Gonzalez was going to pull his gun out again when he turned around, she said.

“If Mr. Itkowitz had decided differently, maybe he wouldn't be here today,” she said.

But Carter told jurors that the prosecution would call a use-of-force expert who would testify that Gonzalez did not pose a threat to Itkowitz after he walked away.

The shooting occurred after Itkowitz and his wife had been out that night on Melrose Avenue to discuss marital problems. The couple began arguing when Itkowitz's wife ran toward a group of people outside a tattoo parlor, where Gonzalez was the manager, prosecutors said. Gonzalez reproached Itkowitz and told him to leave.

In the video, Gonzales and Itkowitz are seen fighting when Gonzalez pulls out what appears to be a small silver gun and points the firearm at Itkowitz. Gonzalez puts the gun away as the two men talk.

Prosecutors said Itkowitz identified himself at that point as a law enforcement officer and Gonzalez walked away.

Itkowitz later told Los Angeles police detectives that he fired immediately after Gonzalez punched him.

Hwang, the public defender, said Itkowitz had drunk too much alcohol at a nearby restaurant and was traumatized later when he gave his statement to police after the shooting. Nevertheless, she said, he told the “emotional truth of what happened.”

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office had earlier declined to file charges against the deputy marshal, saying they had insufficient evidence despite concluding that the security camera footage was “patently inconsistent” with Itkowitz’s account of the shooting.

Twitter: @jpanzar