Ezequiel Garcia, a longtime federal immigration agent, had told his wife of problems at work.
But when she called him at the office Thursday, everything seemed normal. They talked about having Korean barbecue for dinner. Before he could go home, however, he had to meet with a high-ranking supervisor about his job performance.
The exchange grew heated, and Garcia did the unthinkable: He turned his weapon on a fellow agent. He fired at least six shots at the supervisor before another quick-acting agent intervened and shot him dead.
The shooting, which left a second-in-command of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Los Angeles riddled with gunshot wounds, was the latest blow to an embattled office that has been plagued by scandals involving several of its top officials.
Authorities said Garcia, 45, who supervised a Document and Benefit Fraud Task force, shot Deputy Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kozak, 51, in his upper torso, legs and hands before being shot and killed. Kozak, a 30-year veteran agent who previously served as acting head of ICE’s Los Angeles operations, remains hospitalized but is in stable condition, and is alert and talking, federal officials said at a news conference.
Officials did not identify the third supervisor, who has been placed on leave, citing “concern for his privacy.”
“Kozak is alive today because of the heroic action of another ICE supervisor,” Special Agent in Charge Claude Arnold said at a news conference. “This is the first time anything of this nature has occurred within ICE. And we’re doing everything humanly possible to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
One police source who was present at the scene said a group of Los Angeles Police Department detectives and officers who happened to be in the building rushed over to the office, responding to a call for medical help over the PA system.
Amid a thick smell of gunpowder and smoke, they saw Garcia lying on his side, apparently dead, recalled the source, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case. The ICE agent who shot him stood stunned, and the supervisor lay on the floor cursing in anger and saying that his stomach felt like it was burning, he said.
“This guy’s a fighter,” he said. “He was awake, and lucid.”
The seventh floor of the federal building in Long Beach, where the shooting took place, remained cordoned off Friday as a crime scene. Agents were given the option of taking the day off.
ICE Director John Morton flew into Los Angeles to meet with the agents involved.
“Events like this test us as an agency, and it will take time for us to heal,” he said.
The shooting follows a troubled few years for the agency’s Los Angeles field office. A high-ranking official and his wife, an intelligence analyst, have been indicted and are on trial in federal court for defrauding the government. Another official, suspected of doctoring his college diploma, has been on leave for more than a year while a grand jury investigates the matter.
According to court files, two other ranking supervisors were internally investigated and disciplined for an extramarital affair and related professional misconduct.
In a brief phone interview Friday, Garcia’s wife, Balbina, said tearfully that the couple were going through a divorce after 14 years of marriage but were trying to work things out.
“He never made it home,” she said.
At the couple’s Murrieta home near Interstate 15, relatives had gathered but said they weren’t ready to comment. A man who identified himself as Garcia’s brother but declined to give his name said only that Garcia was a “hard-working guy with two young kids.”
Los Angeles Times staff writers Phil Willon, Hector Becerra and Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.