Beverly Hills authorities plan to fight a documentary filmmaker’s lawsuit seeking all police records in the slaying of publicist Ronni Chasen, re-asserting that the records are “exempt from disclosure” and denying that keeping them under seal is a violation, according to legal documents obtained Tuesday by TheWrap.
Ryan Katzenbach, who is working on a film about the veteran publicist and awards season consultant’s murder, sued investigators for access to Chasen’s case on Nov. 13. Last week, he dismissed two defendants – the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office and its deputy chief Ed Winter – after they made her autopsy report public late Thursday.
That document revealed scant insight into her killing , but Katzenbach believes there may be more telling details in ballistics reports, crime-scene photos, witness accounts and other police records that have been sealed since the case was closed in January 2010. Defendants remaining in Katzenbach’s records-violation case include the city of Beverly Hills; the BHPD; its chief, David Snowden; Lt. Lincoln Hoshino; and city clerk Melissa Crowder.
Unlike with the coroner’s documents, Katzenbach will have a fight on his hands to obtain investigative records — the city attorney’s answer to his lawsuit, filed Monday in California Superior Court, denies any wrongdoing and re-asserts investigators’ conclusions: that Harold Smith acted alone.
“The City admits and alleges that the records Plaintiff seeks are exempt from disclosure to the public,” the answer states.
The city was compelled to file its answer by Monday to avoid summary judgment. Next up: a march pre-trial hearing, at which a trial date could be set.
“We’re just going to wait on the trial date now and let this go to court,” Katzenbach told TheWrap. “I think they probably are willing to go to court; I know we certainly are.”
In a separate filing obtained and first reported by TheWrap on Monday, the Beverly Hills Police Department asked for a different judge to preside over the lawsuit, saying only that Robert H. O’Brien, to whom the case is assigned, is “prejudiced against Defendant City and Defendant City’s interests.” The peremptory challenge does not describe what that prejudice may be, and repeated messages left with the lawyer who filed the action, T. Peter Pierce, were not immediately returned.
Chasen’s death ruled a homicide at the hands of transient felon Smith, a 43-year-old drifter and ex convict, who was identified as a suspect but committed suicide when police confronted him at a Hollywood flophouse. The gun Smith used to kill himself was determined to be a ballistics match with the murder weapon, and the case was soon closed.
Police say Smith, riding a bicycle late at night, tried to rob Chasen. A theory persists that Smith was hired to kill Chasen and make it look like a robbery, which Beverly Hills investigators have repeatedly debunked.
But Katzenbach — like many others — believes there is more to the story. He’s arguing that the public is entitled to the same access to files that was afforded a former BHPD investigator who included the Chasen slaying in a chapter of his book.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this story.