Case of citizen watchdog with a camera lands in Ga. Court of Appeals

Citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale talks to TV reporters after her Georgia Court of Appeals hearing Tuesday when she continued her fight against a misdemeanor sentence. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

Citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale was so welcome she was treated to a slice of pumpkin pie prior to a rally for Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and other Republican candidates in August 2014.

Soon Tisdale found herself rousted by an officer, who arrested her on charges of criminal trespassing and felony and misdemeanor counts of obstruction of an officer.  The slight woman even faced charges that she assaulted a deputy after she refused to stop filming speeches at the political rally at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm in Dawson County.

A jury in 2017 acquitted Tisdale of the more serious charges, but found her guilty of misdemeanor obstruction. Rather than pay the $1,000 fine and complete community service, she appealed the misdemeanor sentence.

On Tuesday, her attorney argued before the Court of Appeals of Georgia that the conviction should be overturned in the so-called PumpkinGate case.

Tisdale had good reason to believe she could continue filming the rally: She had not been told to stop recording by the co-owner of Burt’s Pumpkin Farm, the person who gave her permission to record the event, Tisdale’s attorney Andrew Fleischman said.

However, while the speeches were underway, someone complained about Tisdale’s filming, which prompted two people to tell her to stop recording or leave.

Tisdale insisted she had permission from an owner. Then Dawson County Sheriff’s Deputy Tony Wooten stepped in, according to court documents.

A video of the incident posted online by Tisdale shows her repeatedly asking Wooten his name while demanding to be let go as he drags her from the speaker’s tent.

Wooten said he was acting at the request of the property owners, according to prosecutors.

A conviction for obstruction requires Wooten to do more than to have simply asked Tisdale to quit recording to uphold the conviction, Fleischman said.

Wooten also should have given his name when repeatedly asked by Tisdale, Fleischman said.

“The one person who never did approach her was the person she got the authority from in the first place, Kathy Burt,” Fleischman said. “So if a police officer approaches me right now and says I have to leave, can I rely on a piece of paper from (the court) saying I can come (to) argue?”

Presiding Judge M. Yvette Miller asked if Wooten was wearing his full uniform that day while another member of the three-judge panel questioned the extent that Tisdale knew who Wooten was.

“Has the fact been proven that she knew he was law enforcement?” Judge Clyde Reese said. “Does he have to say my name is Joe Simpson.”

Although Wooten refused to tell his name to Tisdale, he could be “spotted as a police officer a mile away” wearing a polo shirt with a sheriff’s badge inscribed, a belt with gun and radio, and khaki pants, Dawson County Assistant District Attorney Conley Greer said.

“You can obstruct in any number of ways; from being stubborn, from arguing, to simply not doing a lawful command,” he said. “Here (Wooten) was acting lawfully … by keeping the peace and acting as the final, the second representative of the property owner.”

The rally, open to the public, was more like a small gathering on a family-owned farm, Greer said.

It was attended by about 50 or so people, including key GOP officials like Deal, Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens and future state School Superintendent Richard Woods and U.S. Sen. David Perdue. Georgia’s former Attorney Sam Olens, was also at the rally and was the only elected official who objected to Tisdale’s treatment at the time.

“You have a lot of Republican officials there,” Greer said. “You have two owners that are friends with some of them and they’re very nervous that (filming) is going on.”

A decision on Tisdale’s appeal is expected in about six months.

The Roswell resident is a fixture at numerous political events and government meetings, often filming the proceedings and posting unedited versions online.

She won a $200,000 settlement from the City of Cumming in 2015 after officals ordered her kicked out of a government meeting.

Tisdale says her reason for recording the Dawson County rally was simply just to encourage people to vote.

Her lawyers are working pro bono on the appeal. Still, why go to the trouble to appeal a misdemeanor charge from more than five years ago?

“My goal is a full exoneration,” she said following Tuesday’s court hearing. “I want to clear my name. I was doing nothing wrong.”

 

Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

5 COMMENTS

  1. IMO…Dawson County’s attorney Greer was a blustering, name-dropping blowhard, attempting to impress the court by re-capping the list of Republican attendees at Burt’s farm that day. Rather than stick to addressing Wooten’s grab of Mrs. Tisdale, Greer entertained with multiple name-droppings re Clint Bearden, Governor Deal, Perdue, Hudgens. But all that name dropping was IRRELEVANT. What matters is that the video shows that even after several minutes of manhandling Mrs. Tisdale have passed, we hear Wooten say on the video that he “will” identify himself later. “Will.” Future tense. Even at that point Wooten chose to not identify himself as a cop or by name even though Mrs. Tisdale asked many times. Mrs. Tisdale had no idea who had grabbed her. Further, not every word out of a cop’s mouth makes what he is saying “lawful,” either. Just inserting the word “lawful” into a sentence does not make it so. I bet the cops who tried to make Rosa Parks give up her bus seat told her they were giving her a lawful order, too. Somethings are just wrong. And this unjust rough up of Mrs. Tisdale is one of them.

  2. Sounds like Mrs. Burt told Mrs. Tisdale she could film. And maybe later Mrs. Burt’s husband said the opposite. It would not be the first time that a wife/husband contradicted each other, without knowing. So far as Mrs. Tisdale knew, she had been told by an owner it was OK. So when unknown voices tell her to stop, she has no reason to think they were legit – – just some dudes yapping. That cop Wooten chose to do a rough up, cuff up, arrest and charge her over a husband/wife error-in-agreement seems particularly unfair. Likely Wooten KNEW he was going to be sued over that nasty grab. And IMO that is why Dawson County is pulling this sleazy maneuver to try to find some miniscule reason to have a charge stick against Mrs. Wooten – any charge, at least one charge! This is being done to protect Wooten’s hide.

  3. Several long minutes into the rough up, Mrs. Tisdale says she will leave. One can understand it took her a moment to gather a thought – she had just been manhandled, drug away, for god’s sake let the woman catch her breath. But Wooten won’t let her leave – cop ego. She DID agree to leave. She tried. Wooten and the politicos escalated this whole mess, and NOW we are seeing the lengths the Dawson County public servants will go to, to protect Wooten’s hide. They all know Wooten and the county are gonna get sued over this.

  4. Fifty seconds into Greer’s argument, we hear Greer himself acknowledge that Mrs. Burt gave permission. That Greer may wish to quibble today about the terms and disclosures of that permission is another argument for another case, on another day. But on THAT day, Ms. Tisdale had every reason to believe she could film. She had no reason to think that strange voices telling her to stop filming were legit, or anything more than political dudes yapping in the background. She did what some would do in church when there is rude murmuring going on…she shushed ’em. Likely never taking her eye off the lens. She never saw who they were. She was just filming…as far as she knew, with permission.

  5. At the 7:20 mark of Greer’s remarks, he admits that at least one other person there did not recognize Wooten to be a cop. So his notion that you could tell Wooten was a cop “from a mile away” is not entirely accurate. And anyway, Mrs. Tisdale had no reason to cue in on Wooten, as she likely believed she was doing nothing wrong. His presence there was likely totally IRRELEVANT to her. She was just there to film…and sounds like as far as she knew, she had permission.

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