Prosecutors want Nakamoto's notes, make plea to women in case against sheriff's deputy
PORT ALLEN- An area prosecutor made a passionate plea outside the West Baton Rouge Parish courthouse Thursday for women who feel they may have been harassed by a local sheriff’s deputy.
Scotty Chabert, with the district attorney’s office in West Baton Rouge, wanted to get a message to women as his office investigates the case involving West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Arceneaux.
The WBRZ Investigative Unit first reported this summer, Arceneaux was the target of an internal affairs inquiry by the sheriff’s office following a complaint from a woman who said the deputy demanded oral sex from her during a traffic stop. The interaction occurred after Arceneaux stopped her as he was driving his patrol unit, the woman reported.
After the story aired on television, additional women came forward. Over the course of several days, three more women spoke with Channel 2 and Chief Investigator Chris Nakamoto, the station’s watchdog journalism unit’s leader, reporting similar incidents.
Once a number of stories were broadcast on WBRZ newscasts in July, parish prosecutors took the case after both the sheriff’s office investigation and one by State Police.
Now, the district attorney's office is organizing a grand jury hearing to determine whether Arceneaux will face criminal prosecution for his alleged actions.
Chabert, the prosecutor, does not believe there was cronyism in how the case was originally handled internally at the sheriff’s office.
"I'm not concerned with [how the investigation originally unfolded]," Chabert said. "I know Sheriff Cazes. [Authorities] are invested in the case. They were following the victims' wishes during that time. It's now been turned over to us. We will take the next step."
But, women have expressed concern in how their complaints were originally handled, and were worried Arceneaux was, at first, allowed to keep working the streets of West Baton Rouge.
Some who spoke with WBRZ originally asked to remain anonymous and said they had lost faith and were worried if they participated further in the authorities’ investigation, they would be retaliated against.
Investigators were frustrated with the roadblock, so they attempted to force WBRZ and Nakamoto into releasing protected reporters’ notes. Authorities hoped to compel the station to reveal the names of the women who appeared in stories without identifying characteristics like names or faces. WBRZ has a policy of not revealing sources.
Thursday, there was a hearing over the issue.
Judge Kevin Kimball ruled neither WBRZ nor Nakamoto should release the names. But, asked that any unpublished notes or raw video pertaining to the investigation be released after appropriate redactions are made. WBRZ is currently working with attorneys to respond to the judge's order.
A station attorney argued the justice system has an adequate case, without getting into journalistic notes.
"Everybody knows it's relatively easy for a district attorney to obtain an indictment from a grand jury," WBRZ attorney Chase Tettleton said. "We know two women have come forward [to authorities] to lodge complaints against Ben Arceneaux. Those two women should be where the grand jury starts. They should get indictments on those two first and move on to other sources."
"At the end of the day, this is about misconduct by a police officer on the job," Tettleton said. "In October 2018, we respect women's rights. We respect people who come forward who are victims of sexual harassment. The days of putting those things behind and brushing them under the rug are over."
Chabert didn’t harp on the files – he’s more worried about urging others to come forward.
"Officer misbehavior will not be tolerated in West Baton Rouge," Chabert said. "If there are additional victims out there that have claims against Ben Arceneaux, I want to know about them, hear about them. I want them investigated, and I want them to go to the grand jury with the other crimes."
“The assurance that I can give them is the person that committed a crime against them will be prosecuted and pay for those crimes," Chabert said.
He asked people to lodge complaints by calling 225-336-2410.
Following WBRZ reports, Arceneaux was eventually put on unpaid leave from the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office.
A grand jury hearing is expected, although a date has not been set.
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