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Gov. Nathan Deal will not testify in trial of citizen journalist, judge rules
Several other top GOP officials called to witness stand in trial over 2014 rally confrontation
Nydia Tisdale
Nydia Tisdale

DAWSON COUNTY - Senior Superior Court Judge Martha Christian said Thursday afternoon that the subpoena served to Gov. Nathan Deal by Nydia Tisdale’s attorneys was “unreasonable and oppressive” and ruled that it be dismissed.

Deal will not be testifying in the trial of Tisdale, a citizen journalist who was arrested Aug. 23, 2014, during a Republican Party rally at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm in Dawsonville.

Tisdale was charged with obstruction of an officer and trespassing after an altercation with Capt. Tony Wooten, at the time a 16-year veteran with the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office.

The fourth day of Tisdale’s trial moved at a faster pace than previous days. The state moved quickly through its last four witnesses, while the defense still has a handful of witnesses, potentially including Tisdale.

Called to the stand Thursday were Dan Pichon, Morris “Pepper” Pettit and Gerald Swafford, all local residents who witnessed the beginning of the encounter between Tisdale and Wooten. Kathy Burt, co-owner of the pumpkin farm, also testified.

Rally attendees and prominent GOP officials, including Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods and former Attorney General Sam Olens, testified for the defense.  

All said they had seen or heard no indication that filming wasn’t allowed, and they had noticed but not objected to Tisdale filming the speeches.

“In politics, you pretty much assume that someone is recording you all the time,” said Labor Commissioner Mark Butler.

The defense played for Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens the video Tisdale recorded at the rally, in which he made remarks about then-U.S. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn.

“I have never seen anybody misrepresent their stance as much as Michelle Nunn did,” Hudgens says on the video. “I thought I was going to absolutely puke listening to her.”

He is then seen pointing at the camera.

“I don’t know why you’re filming, but yes I said that,” Hudgens appears to tell Tisdale.

Defense attorney Catherine Bernard asked Hudgens whether Tisdale’s filming intimidated him or made him want to stop talking.

“No,” he said.

Butler had just begun speaking when a hand obstructed the view of Tisdale’s camera and Wooten escorted her away from the rally.

“I didn’t really understand personally why it was being done … (but) when you see a law officer doing their job, you typically don’t question that,” Butler told the defense.

Former Dawson County GOP Chairwoman Linda Umberger was the only person at the rally who can be seen audibly objecting to Wooten’s treatment of Tisdale.

“I’m sorry this is happening to you. This is wrong!” Umberger says in the frame of the camera, walking out of the barn where Tisdale was being held, bent against a counter by Wooten.Umberger said she was “mortified” and that witnessing the event was life-changing.

“I want to make sure this never happens to another woman,” Umberger said. “We can all learn a lesson and walk away from it as better people.”

Umberger said that while she knew Wooten, she did not think that he was on duty at the time.

“Tony was not wearing a police uniform. In my mind he was not on duty,” Umberger said. “His actions were inappropriate. They were wrong.”

Frank Sosebee, who ran against Wooten in 2016 for sheriff of Dawson County, was called in as an expert witness on law enforcement. 

Sosebee said that as a law enforcement officer, there is a proper way to introduce yourself depending on the situation. In the video, Tisdale repeatedly asks Wooten to identify himself: “What is your name, sir?” 

On camera, he never does. 

Wooten can be heard saying he’ll tell her his name “as soon as you decide to act like you’re somebody and stop fighting with me.” 

“Communicating with people means a lot,” Sosebee said. “If you show concern and care … it works immensely well.”