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Gunfire a regular occurrence for ICE employees

U.S. Immigration and Customs EnforcementAn ICE Special Response Team trains at Fort Benning, Ga.

While last month's shooting death of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent in Long Beach by a fellow employee is highly unusual, gunfire involving ICE employees is not.

ICE employees have accidentally or intentionally fired their guns or been involved in an operation where there was gunfire nearly 150 times from fiscal year 2004 through the first quarter of fiscal year 2011, according to records obtained by California Watch through the federal Freedom of Information Act.

That makes shootings, on average, a monthly occurrence at ICE. About 13,000 agents, including investigators, immigration agents and deportation officers, are issued guns. ICE is the largest investigative agency within the Department of Homeland Security.

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ICE agents investigate crimes related to border control, trade and customs, as well as immigration offenses. The agency also participates on FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces and deports immigrants judged to be in the country illegally.

Roughly 80 ICE-involved shootings were unintentional and often involved agents dropping, cleaning or reaching for their guns, records show. The guns, in many cases, discharged in offices, government vehicles or during target practice.

In one case, an immigration agent accidentally shot his wife while firing at a practice range. A special agent in Puerto Rico shot himself in the right foot. Another ICE employee accidentally discharged a handgun while in a hotel before attending a firearms instructor course at Fort Benning, Ga.

The shooting of two agents last month in the ICE offices in Long Beach, however, was not an accident. Ezequiel Garcia shot Kevin Kozak, ICE's second in command in the Los Angeles area, six times. The two men had gotten in an argument over Garcia's request for an internal transfer, which had been denied. Garcia was killed when another agent responded and struggled for the gun.

The shooting came a year after gunmen ambushed ICE agents on assignment in Mexico, killing one agent, Jaime Zapata, and wounding another. While the use of force is common in law enforcement, the workplace shooting was a first for the agency.

ICE declined to comment on the record.

Few if any recent studies are available that examine the use of force by federal agencies, making comparisons difficult. The International Association of Chiefs of Police tracked such data a decade ago, but ran out of funding for the program, which then was dropped.

The agency's Freedom of Information officers provided overall shooting numbers for years 2004 through early 2011, but provided detailed records only from 2006 on.

Based on records that began in 2006, Texas had the highest number of shootings, followed by California and Florida. Animals are also a frequent target, often shot after threatening officers. Of 53 intentional shootings between 2006 and 2011, 21 involved an animal.

Those shootings included pit bulls that attacked agents and agents euthanizing deer and even a cow hit by an immigration agent transporting a detainee. An off-duty immigration agent in Texas shot a pit bull that confronted him while he was mowing his lawn. A special agent in New Jersey shot his own pit bull when it attacked him. Last month, a dog was shot in the head during an ICE raid while agents executed a search warrant with local police near Madison, Wis.

Filed under: Public Safety, Daily Report

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