WHITE CASTLE — WBRZ-TV reporter Chris Nakamoto was handcuffed and detained Wednesday and issued a misdemeanor summons after he was accused of harassing the town clerk and refusing to leave town hall when asked by local police.
But the reporter’s boss defended his actions and said Nakamoto was just doing his job by trying to hold public officials accountable.
The town’s clerk, Monica Hamilton, summoned White Castle police officers to Town Hall Wednesday morning, telling police Nakamoto was causing a disturbance, according to Town Attorney Valencia Vessel-Landry.
The incident took place in the lobby after Hamilton refused to be interviewed by Nakamoto on camera for a story the reporter was working on concerning the mayor’s pay and recent public records requests he filed, Vessel-Landry said.
“She told him she didn’t want to be on camera and she asked him to stop filming,” Vessel-Landry said. “He said ‘no’ so she ran to the back and he attempted to come into a restricted area to get to her. That’s when she called the police.”
Nakamoto was removed and issued a summons for allegedly “remaining after being forbidden” after police arrived on the scene and he refused their requests to leave, Vessel-Landry said.
Vessel-Landry said the officers detained Nakamoto because he was causing a scene, trying to get into a restricted area in Town Hall and impeding the employees from doing their work.
However, WBRZ News Director Lee Polowczuk Wednesday afternoon offered up a different account regarding what happened.
“It was simple: Chris put in a records request Monday with three different elements,” Polowczuk said. “He received two of three elements yesterday and was just going over there to inquire about the third element.”
Town officials recently were on the losing end of a public records lawsuit brought against the city by two residents who claimed the town refused their numerous requests for documents. Town officials accused the two residents who filed the suit of harboring a vendetta against the mayor.
Polowczuk said Nakamoto was working on another story while he was at Town Hall regarding an ordinance the town recently introduced to bump the mayor’s salary to $50,000 a year — which the mayor is already receiving.
Polowczuk says town officials asked Nakamoto to leave the lobby of Town Hall, which is an area open to the public, and a police officer showed up, placing him in handcuffs and removing him when he refused to leave.
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.”
The Advocate previously reported that White Castle Mayor Gerald Jermarr Williams saw his annual salary jump from $28,000 to $50,835 in 2015 through a series of votes by the town’s Board of Aldermen — all of which Williams and the town’s attorney said were within the parameters of the laws governing Louisiana municipalities.
Vessel-Landry said Wednesday an ordinance the Board of Alderman introduced at Monday’s meeting is to amend a section of the town’s bylaws which list the mayor’s salary. Currently the ordinance still reflects the lower amount the board adopted last year.
“We needed to update the ordinance to show the salary he’s already getting,” she said. “That’s all we’re trying to do.”
Editor's Note: This story was changed on March 24, 2016, to note that Nakamoto was detained and issued a summons, not arrested and booked.
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter @tjonesreporter.