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Sheriff Blasts Wording Of Wrongful Death Claim

June 28, 1986

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The sheriff on Saturday angrily denounced a $2.5 million wrongful-death suit that called the police killing of a Rodeo Drive jewelry store hostage amateurish and illegal.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block said he was upset that the claim filed by relatives called the shooting ″unjustifiable, unreasonable, unfair, unprofessional and amateurish and illegal.″

″I think that this is one of the most disgraceful exhibitions that I have been exposed to by a supposedly legitimate attorney,″ Block said.

The sheriff said, however, he expected the wrongful-death claim for the mistaken shooting of Hugh Skinner, 64, sales manager of the exclusive Van Cleef & Arpels Inc. jewelry store and one of three hostages who died in the siege.

Skinner was shot by a county sheriff’s marksman who mistook him for the gunman attempting to escape using his hostages for a shield. Three others, including the alleged gunman, were injured.

The sheriff said he would ask the county to take legal action against the San Francisco-based law firm of attorney Melvin Belli, which filed the claim Friday on behalf of Skinner’s nephew and two nieces.

Such claims must be made at least 100 days prior to the filing of a lawsuit.

″You call the cops and you get an assassin,″ Belli said Friday, a statement Block said ″shows a complete lack of understanding of the role of these officers and the activities that go on during the conduct of such a situation.″

Steven Livaditis, 22, the man arrested after the siege, faces arraignment Monday in Beverly Hills Municipal Court on three counts of murder, including Skinner’s death.

Livaditis is accused of killing security guard William Richard Smith, 54, and saleswoman Ann C. Heilperin, 40, inside the store during the siege.

Although Skinner was shot by a sheriff’s marksman, Livaditis will stand trial for Skinner’s murder because his death resulted from crimes Livaditis is accused of committing, district attorney spokesman Al Albergate said.

Skinner was eulogized Saturday as a man who gave up his own life to save others, in a funeral Mass attended by more than 60 relatives, friends and co- workers.

Smith’s body was to be flown to his birthplace, Providence, R.I., for burial alongside his father, officials said. Memorial arrangements were incomplete for Skinner and Miss Heilperin.

Prosecutors said they will show that Livaditis, accused of murder in the deaths of three hostages, intended to kill all five of his captives, Albergate said Friday.

″We do believe he intended to kill everybody,″ Albergate said. ″We’re talking about intent. That is something that will come out at the trial.″

All three murder counts against Livaditis carry allegations of special circumstances, which could result in the death penalty if he is convicted, Albergate said.

Other charges against Livaditis are four counts of robbery, five counts of false imprisonment for holding five hostages, and three counts of kidnapping, Albergate said.

Livaditis was still in the jail ward at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center with burns on his throat, face, hand and neck as a result of concussion grenades lobbed by sheriff’s deputies when he tried to escape the jewelry store Monday night.

Surviving hostage Carol Lambert, 42, was reported in good condition with burns at Brotman Memorial Medical Center. Hostage Robert Taylor, 50, was released from a hospital Wednesday after being treated for chest pains.

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