DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — Local citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale is no stranger to courtrooms.
She can often be found with her video camera in hand or on a tripod recording meetings of local government entities and then uploading them to her website, aboutforsyth.net, typically unedited.
As someone who strives to monitor and record local government proceedings, she has had her fair share of arrests, trials and clashes with elected officials.
But in November 2015, she was indicted by a Dawson County Grand Jury on charges related to her refusal to leave and stop videotaping a Republican political rally August 2014 at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm in Dawsonville.
A Dawson County Superior Court acquitted Tisdale of misdemeanor criminal trespass and felony obstruction of an officer Dec. 4, but found her guilty on a misdemeanor charge or obstruction of an officer.
Sentencing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m., Monday, Dec. 18 at the Dawson County Government Center, 25 Justice Way.
At the 2014 rally, Tisdale, 54, who lives in Roswell, was filming multiple Republican candidates and lawmakers, including former state Attorney General Sam Olens and Gov. Nathan Deal.
Both Olens and Deal were served subpoenas for the trial. Deal was excused from testifying, but Olens said he “wasn’t bothered by the video camera” because elected officials should assume they’re being recorded.
Tisdale was asked to stop recording by Clint Bearden, attorney, magistrate judge and nominee for the Superior Court in the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, she said.. When she refused, former Dawson County Sheriff’s Capt. Tony Wooten then tried to escort her off the property. She then allegedly kicked and fought with the officer, which resulted in the charges against her. She claims she didn’t know who Wooten was at the time.
Witnesses have said they heard Tisdale ordered twice to stop filming before Wooten then removed her. However Tisdale said she wasn’t asked to leave but just forcibly removed.
A video shows a hand being put over the lens as Tisdale was forcibly removed from the property. Tisdale apparently repeatedly asks Wooten to identify himself. Toward the end of the video, Tisdale and Wooten aren’t seen on screen, but yells of “stop hurting me” can be heard from Tisdale.
Olens testified he heard a “shriek that came from a lot of pain.”
Wooten said he had, in fact, identified himself to Tisdale and decided to arrest her after she would not cease filming.
During Tisdale’s testimony Nov. 27, she said was “pinned face down in pain and terror” when Wooten reportedly pressed her against a counter from behind.
“With him pushing his groin against my buttocks I felt like I was being raped with my clothes on,” Tisdale said while testifying. “It was so quick and abrupt and immediate and hostile. It made no sense to me. I learned his name when handcuffs were being placed on me.”
The video from that day was shown in trial with Assistant District Attorney Conley Greer going through frame by frame to show the space between Tisdale and Wooten.
However, Tisdale maintains she was bruised and was in “excruciating” pain.
She told jurors she had permission to film the event and that was backed up in 2014 by Olens.
“If we stand for anything as a party, what are we afraid of having a lady with a camera filming us?” Olens said. “What are we saying here that shouldn’t be on film? What message are we sending that because it’s private property they shouldn’t be filming it?”
Tisdale said she saw advertisements for the rally that promoted it as an open event, which she said includes herself as a member of the public. She also says she spoke with Johnny Burt’s wife, Kathy, who she said knew Tisdale was coming to film and was fine with it.
This isn’t the first time Tisdale has seen the inside of a courtroom.
In April 2012, she was removed during a Cumming City Council meeting after Mayor H. Ford Gravitt asked the chief of police to remove the camera from the auditorium.
“We don’t allow filming inside of the City Hall here unless it’s specific reasons, so if you would remove the camera,” Gravitt said during the meeting.
When Tisdale informed the mayor of the state’s Sunshine Laws, which had been updated that same day and which give citizens the right to record open meetings, Gravitt said the matter wasn’t up for discussion. He proceeded to have Tisdale and her camera removed from the meeting.
Following the incident, Tisdale filed suit against the city, and the case was settled in 2015 when the city agreed to pay Tisdale $200,000.
In 2017, 32 journalists have been arrested so far, according to U.S. Freedom Press Tracker.