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Director Sues for Access|to Ronni Chasen File

(CN) - A documentary filmmaker claims Beverly Hills police won't release records on the 2010 murder of Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen, though they granted full access to a reporter whose book they "apparently endorsed."

Independent director-producer Ryan Katzenbach filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court against the City of Beverly Hills, its police department, the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office and four officials who he claims are stonewalling his effort to gather information about Chasen's murder.

Chasen, born Veronica Cohen, was a highly respected publicist whose clientele included actor Michael Douglas and singer Cher.

She was shot multiple times in her Mercedes Benz coupe on Nov. 16, 2010, in what police say was a random robbery committed by a transient on a bike. Immediately after the shooting on Sunset Boulevard, Chasen reportedly turned left onto Whittier, paused briefly at a stop sign and then crashed into a light pole. She was pronounced dead of gunshot wounds shortly after midnight at a nearby hospital.

About two weeks later, a tip on the TV show "America's Most Wanted" identified 43-year-old Harold Smith as a possible suspect. When detectives approached him, he committed suicide with a .38-caliber handgun.

Police initially said the bullets in Smith's gun did not match the shells used to kill Chasen, but later claimed the weapons were a match, according to the director's lawsuit.

Katzenbach says he decided to make a film called "6:38: The Death of Ronni Chasen" after digging up eyewitness accounts that appeared to contradict the police's version of events.

He says he submitted requests for crime scene photos, police blotter information, ballistics reports and Chasen's autopsy report, but was denied at each turn.

According to the lawsuit, the defendants "are doing anything and everything in their power to conceal documents and silence the plaintiff from effectively examining their detective work when substantial questions regarding their investigation have surfaced."

The director says eyewitnesses told him that the officers who responded to the scene did not realize it was a homicide at first, and thought they were responding to a drunk-driving accident.

If that's the case, Katzenbach claims, Chasen may not have received the immediate medical care she needed and the crime scene could have been compromised. He claims there were other discrepancies that he wanted to check out.

But Katzenbach says police Chief David Snowden punted his 12-page written request for information about the case to media officer Lt. Lincoln Hoshino, who denied the bid 38 days later - well past the statutory 10-day deadline for responding to such requests.

Hoshino also refused to release the "security hold" on Chasen's autopsy report, Katzenbach claims, though it was unclear why the hold had been placed on her report in the first place.

The autopsies of five of the last six people murdered in Beverly Hills since 2007 were public record, according to the lawsuit, two of which were unsolved murders.

"Why would autopsies connected to unsolved homicides be available yet Ronni Chasen's is NOT?" Katzenbach asks in his 44-page lawsuit.

Even more bizarre, he says, is the fact that the autopsy of Chasen's alleged murderer, Harold Smith, has no similar security hold and is available to the public.

"Smith is a key component of the Chasen murder investigation," Katzenbach claims. "The fact that Smith's autopsy is available and Chasen's autopsy is on security hold is baffling at once and instantly unjustifiable by the defendants."

After being denied with each request, Katzenbach says he was surprised to learn that nine photographs from the crime scene were published in the 2012 book "Beverly Hills Confidential."

He says he ordered the book on Amazon and was "miffed" to further discover that its co-author, Clark Fogg, was a senior forensic specialist with the Beverly Hills Police Department.

Katzenbach says Fogg "used his capacity with the department, his unrestricted access to the entire Chasen crime file, to co-author a for-profit book."

Fogg's co-author, investigative journalist Barbara Schroeder, "had also essentially been granted access to the same files that plaintiff was trying to acquire but she had been invited into the department whereas the plaintiff had been denied all access," the lawsuit states.

"In fact, Lt. Hoshino had very matter of factly told plaintiff in his phone call of July 22, 2013 that no detective would participate in the making of the plaintiff's documentary."

The director says he "lit into Hoshino" for the double standard in an email requesting the entire library of crime scene photos and documents related to the investigation. Fogg's disclosure of these materials to Schroeder waived any purported exemption the department previously claimed, he says.

Katzenbach sharply rejects the department's assertions that Fogg wrote the book off duty and that Schroeder developed her own sources apart from Fogg. He claims the stories in "Beverly Hills Confidential" are, with the exception of a few news references, clearly drawn from police files.

"When Schroeder seeks a secondary source, she looks to Clark Fogg for an analysis of the case. Period. To call this 'investigative journalism is laughable," says Katzenbach, who is representing himself in the lawsuit.

"[T]he last time propaganda of this magnitude glorified a sovereign body, it was printed in German," he adds.

Katzenbach claims the police department is stonewalling him while it "rolls the red carpet out" for Schroeder, whose book is more flattering for the defendants.

"Snowden is obviously very proud to show off this book that he and his department have apparently endorsed," Katzenbach says. "To (sic) bad the chief is not as enthused about the plaintiff's documentary project and has allowed his department to demonstrate a bias, capricious and cavalier attitude toward the plaintiff's efforts."

He demands an order forcing the defendants to release the records he requested and grant him the same access to the Chasen file as they gave Schroeder.

The individual defendants are Hoshino, Snowden, City Clerk Specialist Melissa Crowder and Deputy Coroner Ed Winter.

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