WASHINGTON (AP) — A Homeland Security Department employee, Kevin Kozak, rarely sleeps through the night and when he does, he sometimes wakes in a sweat. During the days, he can't forget — flashing back to the smoke-filled room where a disgruntled federal agent fired 23 times at him inside a government office building, shattering his hand and left leg.
"They're called daymares," he said. In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Kozak described the February 2012 shooting that unfolded inside the Long Beach offices of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, which he said left him permanently disabled.
The Associated Press reported this week a new government investigation concluded that the Homeland Security Department had missed clear warning signs of supervisory agent Ezequiel "Zeke" Garcia's descent toward violence and could have intervened before he started the deadly gun battle that left him dead.
Kozak spent seven months in a wheelchair and two years in physical therapy, re-learning how to walk. Doctors say if the pain continues to worsen, he may have to lose his leg.
The Homeland Security Department had briefly revoked Garcia's authority to carry a gun, badge and credentials in August 2011, six months before the shootings, because he told his Los Angeles supervisor, John Rocha, that he had been taking Vicodin over the previous eight months for back pain. The agency returned Garcia's gun after a cursory review — even though Rocha objected because he worried Garcia was suicidal or might hurt others.
Rocha said he was overruled and didn't formally document his concerns over fears Garcia might sue him. More than three years after the shootings, the government hasn't changed its rules to make it harder for federal agents to get their guns back in such cases.
The government's new review identified no one person to blame for failing to predict the violence.
Kozak said the department was negligent and the shooting should never have happened. He filed a claim for $5 million in damages last year, just before the two-year anniversary of the shooting. The agency decided not to pay him a settlement and told him he could pursue his claim with a lawsuit in U.S. District Court.
"I'm the last person who wants to sue the government, to fight my own people," Kozak said. "I gave them a chance to do something on their own, to help me and my kids because it was going to be a long, long difficult road."
The agency declined to comment on Friday.
Kozak, 54, returned to work for the agency earlier this year as legal counsel to the director of its Intellectual Property Rights Center. He said his life revolves around his young son and daughter. After he was wounded in the shootings, while waiting for medics, he said, he looked at their photos on his desk and yelled repeatedly, "I will not die on this floor, not like this. I will go home to my kids."
Kozak has worked undercover targeting high-level cartels in Central America and the Caribbean, dealing with thousands of pounds of cocaine. He's also a cancer survivor.
"To survive all that and then damn near die in your office is kind of ridiculous," Kozak said. "I'm not the same man that I was. Everyone else says 'too bad' and moves on, but I have to live this every day."
This story has been corrected to show that Kozak is no longer a supervisor.
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