Ronni Chasen Lawsuit: Filmmaker Reveals Neighbor’s Video Testimony on Eve of Trial (Exclusive)

Ronni Chasen - H 2013
Eric Charbonneau/Invision/AP Images

Ronni Chasen - H 2013

A Beverly Hills resident who says he directed police to a potential eyewitness to the crime claims investigators later admitted they didn’t pursue a vigorous interview because the witness didn’t speak English

A video exhibit entered into the court record by a crusading documentary filmmaker on the eve of his public records trial against the Beverly Hills Police Department could raise new questions as to whether the agency adequately pursued its investigation into the murder of film publicist Ronni Chasen after she left a premiere in November 2010.

The inquiry ended when an America’s Most Wanted tip led police to Harold Martin Smith, a 43-year-old ex-convict who committed suicide at his Hollywood flophouse when confronted by officers. The BHPD subsequently positioned the case as a random robbery gone wrong. Some believe Smith may have been hired as a hit man, and that he might not have acted alone.

The nearly eight-minute clip, submitted as Exhibit C in an evidentiary filing with L.A. Superior Court on Dec. 4, consists of an interview between Ryan Katzenbach and an unidentified Beverly Hills resident. He claims to have just returned to his Whittier Drive home along with a colleague at about 12:25 a.m. on Nov. 16 from an East Coast trip when he heard gunshots that he later learned resulted in Chasen’s death. “We heard a distinctive and very unusual noise, particularly for our neighborhood,” he says. “It was pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, thud.”

The self-described “earwitness,” who says he had previously shared his testimony with police, had been driven home from the airport in a taxi van whose driver may have seen the killing before leaving the immediate area. He claims that investigators eventually told him they reached the cab driver but could not interview him because the driver professed not to speak any English.

“An unexplained aspect of this is why the individual driver, who I am quite certain was able to communicate in English to me [during his taxi ride], was unable to communicate in English to the police.” It’s also unclear why, regardless of the nature of the driver’s English-language capabilities, investigators didn’t hire a translator. (The BHPD has declined to comment on its investigation to THR.)

Katzenbach, acting as his own counsel, submitted the footage, shot for his in-progress 6:38: The Death of Ronni Chasen, in support of his fight for access to the case file. Such records would typically remain off-limits to the public, but he asserts that the BHPD waived its right to a permanently closed investigation when it allowed its senior forensics specialist Clark Fogg to co-author a 2012 small-press book, Beverly Hills Confidential: A Century of Stars, Scandals and Murder, that claims on its cover to reveal secrets “from the files of the Beverly Hills Police Department.”

In a previous pretrial filing, Fogg briefly outlined his involvement with the case, noting that he “conducted the forensic processing and analysis of the crime scene.” Yet he has insisted that he did not rely on the overall Chasen file to form the detailed analysis of the murder investigation he shares in the book.

Judge James C. Chalfant is set to hear the case — following a 13-month process that has already resulted in a decision by the L.A. County Coroner’s Office to release Chasen’s previously sealed autopsy, against the BHPD’s wishes — on the morning of Dec. 11.