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‘Disgraceful,’ Block Says of Belli Comment

Times Staff Writer

Sheriff Sherman Block said Saturday that he will urge the deputies involved in the shooting death of a hostage during last week’s jewelry store robbery in Beverly Hills to take legal action against Melvin Belli for the attorney’s denunciation of them as reckless killers.

Belli said Friday that the death of Hugh Skinner, manager of the Van Cleef & Arpels shop on Rodeo Drive, was the result of “unjustified, unreasonable, unfair and unprofessional” actions, adding “when you call the cops, you don’t call an executioner.”

In response, Block said that Belli’s claims of $2.5 million against the City of Beverly Hills and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on behalf of Skinner’s relatives were not unexpected in such a case.

But the sheriff objected to Belli’s “disgraceful comments,” saying that the attorney “at best showed a complete lack of understanding of the role of these officers and the activities that go on in such a situation.

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“At worst, this was a disgusting exhibition by an individual whose actions and morals, if they could stand comparison with those of the officers in this situation, would come off second best if not worse,” said Block, speaking after a graduation ceremony for Explorer Scouts who finished their training as police cadets.

Block said the sniper and his spotter, who reportedly mistook Skinner for the robber, “did exactly what was called for, and it was a tragic mistake.”

He said he would recommend that the deputies seek “legal recourse for defamation” against Belli, who filed two claims, the precursor to an expected lawsuit, on behalf of Skinner’s nephew, Carl Skinner, and nieces, Cathy Donner and Karen Sheck.

Steven Livaditis, 22, the suspect in the case, is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Beverly Hills Municipal Court on three counts of murder and 12 other felonies from the aborted robbery in which he allegedly killed two other employees.

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About 200 mourners attended a funeral service Saturday for William Richard Smith, 54, a security guard who was killed in the early minutes of the robbery.

The Rev. Francis Cullen, pastor of St. Mary Magdelene’s Church, said Smith was a dutiful son who lived with his parents and a believer who saw God as “a friend in a simple and direct relationship.”

The priest said it was ironic that Smith, whom he described as a decorated hero of the Korean War, should die more than 30 years later at the hands of a common criminal.

“But even when confronted by a man armed with a knife and a gun, he refused to be intimidated,” the priest said. “He did everything he could to protect his fellow hostages even at the cost of his own life.”

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