WHITE CASTLE – A news station has filed a public records request for surveillance video of the lobby of a town hall where one of its reporters was handcuffed and then escorted from the building on Friday.
Chris Nakamoto, a television reporter with WBRZ of Baton Rouge, was briefly detained and led in handcuffs out of White Castle Town Hall. He received a summons for trespass.
Nakamoto is accused of trying to enter a restricted area of the town hall as he tried to interview the town’s clerk, Monica Hamilton. Nakamoto was attempting to interview Hamilton over pay increases to the town’s mayor and other public record requests.
The town’s attorney told The Advocate newspaper the incident happened after Hamilton refused to be interviewed by Nakamoto on camera.
“She told him she didn’t want to be on camera and she asked him to stop filming," attorney Valencia Vessel-Landry said.
Nakamoto “attempted to come into a restricted area to get to her. That’s when she called the police,” Vessel-Landry said, adding he was removed and issued a summons for allegedly “remaining after being forbidden.”
WBRZ denies this, claiming town officials asked Nakamoto to leave the lobby of the town hall, which is an area open to the public. A police officer showed up, placed Nakamoto in handcuffs and then removed him when he refused to leave.
Lee Polowczuk, WBRZ ’s news director, told the Louisiana Record in an email that the station has “filed a public records request asking for a copy of the city's surveillance camera of the lobby where Nakamoto was.”
Polowczuk said the station's video shows that Nakamoto was in the lobby and not the restricted area at the time of the incident.
“We expect the town's video to refute the city attorney," he said.
Nakamoto was issued a summons on a misdemeanor charge under Louisiana’s criminal code covering trespass.
White Castle recently lost a public records lawsuit taken by two residents who claimed the town refused requests for documents. Among the documents are ones relating to pay hikes for Mayor Jemarr Williams.
Nakamoto was following up on the story and had filed a number of public record requests.
Polowczuk earlier told The Advocate newspaper that Nakomoto “put in a records request ... with three different elements.”
“He received two of three elements yesterday and was just going over there to inquire about the third element,” Polowczuk said.
In a written statement, Polowczuk wrote: “WBRZ stands by Chief Investigator Chris Nakamoto. That’s first and foremost. The public expects this news organization to ask tough questions and hold the powerful accountable. Our reporters are not going to be intimidated by public officials when we are getting you answers. Station management is looking into all legal remedies regarding this incident.”