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Opening statements begin in trial of self-proclaimed citizen journalist
Nydia Tisdale
Nydia Tisdale confers with her defense team Monday morning at the start of the criminal trial against her. Tisdale, who calls herself a citizen journalist, was forcibly removed from a political rally at a local pumpkin farm in 2014 and subsequently arrested on charges of trespassing and obstruction of an officer. - photo by FCN regional staff

DAWSON COUNTY - Opening statements were set to begin Wednesday in the case against citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale. She faces trespassing and obstruction charges after refusing to stop shooting video of speeches at an August 2014 political rally at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm in Dawsonville.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys questioned prospective jurors Monday and Tuesday in a courtroom at the Dawson County Government Center. A jury of nine men and five women was seated late Nov. 28.

Tisdale was indicted on one misdemeanor charge of trespassing, one misdemeanor charge of obstruction of an officer and a felony charge of obstruction of an officer. She was removed from the Republican Party rally by then-Dawson County Sheriff’s Capt. Tony Wooten and held in the Burt’s barn until two other officers arrived to take her to jail.

Tisdale pleaded not guilty to all charges in March 2016.

At the beginning of the trial on Nov. 27, Senior Judge Martha Christian asked about a plea deal that was offered to Tisdale.

Assistant District Attorney Conley Greer, who is prosecuting the case, said Tisdale was offered a plea deal that would have dropped the obstruction of an officer charges. Greer said Tisdale could plead nolo contendre to the misdemeanor charge of trespass, meaning she would accept punishment but not admit guilt.

Tisdale rejected the plea. If convicted of the felony charge, Tisdale could serve up to five years in prison.

Jury selection moved slowly Nov. 28 as both sides made it clear during their questioning of potential jurors that private property, obedience of law enforcement and a journalist’s right to record public events would be key issues in the trial.

The prosecution asked potential jurors if they had ever visited Burt’s Pumpkin Farm, if they owned any property, and if they had ever had anyone removed from their property before.

Catherine Bernard, who is on Tisdale’s defense team, asked the jurors if they knew any of the potential witnesses and if they felt their associations would sway their ability to be impartial. She also asked if they knew anyone in law enforcement.

Tisdale, who gives herself the title of citizen journalist, films local government meetings and political events and posts the videos to her YouTube account.

"I have been videoing for five years," she said at a pretrial hearing in October 2016. "I provide information for the public to learn more about their local government."

Tisdale maintains that she had permission from the property owners to film at the rally and that she was unlawfully arrested and assaulted  by Wooten, who she says did not identify himself until reinforcements showed up at the farm.

Wooten said at the pretrial hearing that when he arrested Tisdale, he was acting for the safety of Tisdale and the other people at the rally, as he had been trained to do. 

In 2015, Tisdale was awarded $200,000 in a settlement by the City of Cumming, where she was thrown, illegally, from a city council meeting that she was attempting to record.