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.”