- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The mother of a former U.S. Marine and Pennsylvania corrections officer killed by an illegal alien has filed a claim against the Department of Homeland Security, saying her son’s killer committed other violent crimes in the United States but was never deported.

Sandra Miller of Altoona, Pa., whose son, Stephen Heiss, died in August 2005, blames Homeland Security and its investigative arm, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), for allowing Miguel Padilla to remain in the United States despite prior convictions for assault, reckless endangerment and fighting with police.

The administrative claim, which seeks $100 million in punitive damages, is the first step in bringing a formal lawsuit against the government.

Padilla, 27, was sentenced to death in September in the killing of Mr. Heiss, who worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Padilla was also convicted in the deaths of Alfred Mignogna, 61, owner of a building where the United Veterans Association maintained a private club, and Fredrick Rickabaugh Sr., 58, a doorman at the club.

The three men died during an August 2005 shooting rampage outside the club.

Arthur S. Cohen, a Hollidaysburg, Pa., lawyer who represents Mrs. Miller and also Mr. Rickabaugh’s family, said the administrative claim was “just the start of a case” against Homeland Security and ICE, and that the agencies will claim immunity from any civil lawsuit.

But, he said, “someone needs to be held accountable for this gross miscarriage of justice.”

Mr. Cohen said he is hopeful Congress will “take the matter into their own hands to come up with some retroactive benefits” for the victims’ families. The government has until March to respond to the claim.

The shootings were denounced by Rep. Bill Shuster, Pennsylvania Republican, who said when police had Padilla in custody during the prior arrests they contacted ICE, but the agency “did nothing.”

“It is terrible enough when a murder occurs, but to have it happen by someone who should not have been here adds to the despair,” Mr. Shuster said in a House floor speech 10 days after Padilla’s sentencing.

Police said Mr. Heiss was entering the United Veterans Association club in downtown Altoona when three other men were denied entry because they were not members. They said Padilla first argued with Mr. Rickabaugh and then Mr. Mignogna but left, returning with a 45-caliber handgun and began shooting at the club’s owner and the doorman.

Mr. Heiss was fatally wounded in the chest as he pushed his companion, Barbara Zindel, also a corrections officer, out of the way of the gunfire, police said.

Blair County, Pa., Judge Hiram Carpenter ruled early in the case the jury could not know of Padilla’s citizenship status. Pending appeals are expected to keep the case tied up in the courts for years.

Court records show Padilla was convicted of assault and reckless endangerment in 2003 after a knife attack, and was sentenced to probation. He also was sentenced to probation on three disorderly conduct charges after fighting with police after a traffic stop.

Mr. Shuster has since met with senior ICE officials — Bill Reid, acting assistant director for investigations, and Claude Arnold — to discuss the Padilla case, but did not return calls to his office for comment.

Mr. Heiss was posthumously recognized at an annual department awards ceremony, where his family was presented with the DOC’s Medal of Valor.

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