A federal judge Wednesday dismissed civil rights-related charges against a deputy U.S. marshal who fatally shot a man who intervened in an argument between the then-off duty lawman and his wife in a dark alley off Melrose Avenue.
In granting a defense motion for acquittal, U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez said prosecutors offered insufficient evidence to sustain convictions against Matthew Itkowitz on counts of deprivation of rights under color of law and using a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.
The lawman still faces two obstruction of justice counts stemming from alleged misleading statements he made to Los Angeles police detectives and his own supervisor about the March 5, 2008, shooting. Each of those counts carries a possible 20-year maximum prison sentence.
Attorneys for Itkowitz told jurors that he pulled his weapon in self- defense after 26-year-old Ryan Gonzalez punched him in the face and threatened him with a gun, but was confused and stressed when he talked to officials afterward.
Federal prosecutors countered that the deputy marshal chased Gonzalez down the alley, killing him “under color of law,” and then lied in an attempt to cover up a shooting he knew was against policy.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to file criminal charges against Itkowitz, citing insufficient evidence, though prosecutors concluded that security camera footage was “patently inconsistent” with the lawman’s account of the shooting.
Gonzalez intervened in the late-night argument between Itkowitz and his then-wife after the woman ran up to the victim and several others standing behind a tattoo parlor and asked for help.
The confrontation quickly came to blows, both sides agree.
According to Itkowitz, Gonzalez flashed a gun, punched him and knocked him to the ground.
The deputy marshal later told police detectives that he immediately “popped up,” lifted his shirt, drew his service weapon and fired to protect himself from Gonzalez, who still had a gun pointed at him, according to testimony.
However, video footage from the alley appears to show that Itkowitz didn’t fire until after the men had begun walking away from each other, suggesting that Gonzalez did not pose an immediate threat, prosecutors said.
As Gonzalez walked toward the tattoo parlor he managed, Itkowitz was seen in the video apparently taking a gun from his pants and holding it behind his right leg.
Gonzalez then turned back toward Itkowitz and apparently motioned for him to leave, and when he didn’t, Gonzalez walked back in Itkowitz’s direction.
He was about a dozen feet away when Itkowitz raised his gun and fired, according to prosecutors. They said the off-duty marshal shot Gonzalez five times while chasing him down the alley.
At least two rounds struck Gonzalez in the back, autopsy results showed.
The obstruction charges stem from Itkowitz’s alleged false description of the sequence of events that led to the shooting and from telling a supervisor that he was “attacked by two Hispanics.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence Middleton told jurors in his closing argument that Itkowitz lied to investigators before finding out that his actions in the alley had been captured on video.
“He didn’t know there was a video when he stated he had ‘popped up,”‘ Middleton said.
But defense attorney Chris Dybwad argued that his client’s supposedly false statements were the result of trauma, a shot of morphine he was given to treat his facial wounds, and a faulty memory of the night’s events.
“Memory is not a recording device,” Dybwad said, arguing that Itkowitz had no motive to lie since “the shooting itself was within policy.”
Itkowitz was “not knowingly making any false statements,” the defense attorney told the jury, which began deliberating in the afternoon.
Itkowitz — who formerly worked at the courthouse where he is being tried — initially faced the possibility of life in federal prison if convicted of the four original counts.
A wrongful death case brought by Gonzalez’s family against the federal government — Itkowitz’s employer — is pending in federal court.
—City News Service
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