In theory, citizens of all 50 states are legally empowered to request and obtain records from their governments. When they work as intended, public records laws are a vital tool for reporters and ordinary people to learn about the government and hold it accountable. But a lot of the time, they don’t work as intended at all.
In White Castle, Louisiana, a reporter for the local ABC affiliate WBRZ was arrested yesterday after he visited City Hall to follow up on a public records request he’d sent earlier in the week. Chris Nakamoto, the reporter, was investigating a pay raise that had recently been given to the mayor, and not all of the documents he’d requested had been provided to him.
Nakamoto had a fruitless exchange with a city employee about his request before a White Castle police officer asked him to leave the building. Nakamoto refused—he was in a public space and hadn’t done anything illegal—and the officer arrested him for trespassing. (WBRZ’s video of the whole thing isn’t embeddable in this post, but you can watch his arrest here and here.)
Government agencies commonly engage in obstructive behavior when confronted with records requests, although they usually don’t go so far as outright arresting a reporter for doing his job. Nakamoto was formally charged with trespassing, and released an hour after being detained. He still has not received the record he was attempting to obtain.