The director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is praising two agents involved in a workplace shooting, one of whom killed a gun-wielding colleague in an effort to save the life of another agent.
"Both of these men came to work yesterday never imagining if they would literally be fighting for their lives, but that is exactly what in fact happened, and they were tested in a very dangerous way and showed incredible fortitude," ICE Director John Morton said Friday.
Investigators were still piecing together the details of Thursday's chaotic scene at the ICE office in Long Beach in which one agent was killed and another wounded.
The confrontation apparently began during a discussion involving Kevin Kozak, the agency's second-in-command for the Los Angeles area, and a lower-ranking supervisor agent named Ezequiel Garcia.
Authorities said that at some point, the discussion escalated, and Garcia pulled out his weapon and fired. Kozak was hit six times, in the upper torso, legs and hands. He was hospitalized in stable condition and was alert and talking.
"He is a fighter, and I believe that's why he's alive today," said Claude Arnold, the ICE agent in charge in Los Angeles. "He refused to succumb to his injuries, and in law enforcement, that's what makes the difference between people who go home at the end of the day and those who don't."
After Garcia fired, a nearby agent drew his own gun and fatally shot the attacker. The third agent, whose name was being withheld, was placed on administrative leave.
Arnold said he wasn't aware of any issues between Garcia and Kozak. "We are doing everything humanly possible to understand why it happened and to ensure it will not happen again," he said.
A federal official with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press that Kozak had denied a request for an internal transfer request by Garcia. 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, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said.
ICE Director John Morton said that he visited Kozak and his family in the hospital. "He is alert, he is stable and he is focused on his recovery," Morton said.
Morton also said he met with the agent who shot Garcia during the confrontation and described him as doing "remarkably well under the circumstances."
"This agent acted with extraordinary calm and took quick and decisive steps to deal with a very dangerous situation," Morton said.
Kozak began his career with Treasury's customs bureau while Garcia started with the Justice Department's former Immigration and Naturalization Service. Kozak has served in his current role since 2004, and Garcia was promoted in 2004 to be a supervisor within ICE.
ICE, like other agencies that make up the Department of Homeland Security, has been torn by internal rivalries since it was created in 2003. There is sharp division between agents of the former INS and Treasury's customs bureau. Employees identify closely with their old agencies and often resent when their supervisors are from the other side.
Job responsibilities changed dramatically when ICE was created, said Julie Myers, who was the agency's director from 2006 to 2008. Longtime immigration agents were forced to quickly learn responsibilities of customs officers and vice versa. The forced cross-training upset longtime employees who were set in their ways.
"It was a forced combination, so that was difficult for a lot of people," Myers said. "Things were not done the way they were always done. They were done differently, and it was tough."
Garcia was a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department after he and another ICE agent claimed they were roughed up by five 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 Long Beach federal building, about 20 miles south of Los Angeles, houses ICE, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Probation and Parole Office.
Along with the FBI, the shooting was being investigated by ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility and Long Beach police.
Associated Press writer Shaya Tayefe Mohajer contributed to this report.