DAWSONVILLE — A Roswell woman who bills herself as a citizen journalist was indicted yesterday on charges resulting from her refusal to stop videoing and leave a political rally at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm last year.
The indictment handed down by a Dawson County Grand Jury shows Nydia Pinzon Tisdale, 52, is facing a third charge in connection with her arrest on Aug. 23, 2014.
Initially booked on felony obstruction of officer and misdemeanor criminal trespass charges, authorities have also added misdemeanor obstruction of officer to the counts against her.
“I’m proud to see this case being presented to the grand jury and allowing our court system to work as it was designed,” said Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle. “I appreciate the citizens who sat on this grand jury, listening to all the evidence and bringing forth a true bill.
“I look forward to this case working its way on through our courts and hopefully, at the end, we will have a guilty verdict from a jury of our peers.”
Tisdale was taken into custody at the rally following a ruckus that ensued when she was asked to stop shooting video of the political speakers at the request of the property owner.
According to Carlisle, Tisdale was advised that Johnny Burt, owner of the farm where the local Republican Party event was held, wanted her to stop recording or leave his property.
When Tisdale refused to stop recording and leave, Sheriff’s Capt. Tony Wooten attempted to escort her off the property.
It was then that Tisdale reportedly kicked and fought with him, leading to the criminal trespass and obstruction charges.
Tisdale, who has contended she did nothing wrong, wants the charges dropped. She also wants to be compensated for her pain and suffering.
Tisdale seeks $550,000 for pain and suffering
Monday’s grand jury decision comes less than three months after attorneys for Tisdale filed notice that a lawsuit against the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office and Dawson County Board of Commissioners is looming unless a settlement can be reached in the case.
According to the notice, Tisdale is seeking $550,000 and a public apology from Wooten, who she claims made inappropriate contact of a sexual nature with her while attempting to take her into custody.
The notice also claims Tisdale's First, Fourth and 14th Amendments were violated by the sheriff's office, Dawson County and the event organizers "by retaliating against her for exercising her right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, as well as by falsely arresting her and using excessive force against her."
A journalist's right to observe
The case "involves the total disregard of a citizen and journalist's fundamental right to observe and record the public activities of government officials," Tisdale’s attorneys said in the notice.
Those actions, according to her attorneys, "constituted negligence, false imprisonment, assault, battery, conversion, trespass, the intentional inflection of emotional distress and violations of the Georgia Computer System's Protection Act."
Tisdale also claims portions of the video recording were erased while her camera was in sheriff's office custody.
Challenging the arrest
Tisdale said she protested when Wooten, whom she contends would not identify himself, attempted to escort her away from the area where the candidates were speaking.
Wooten was wearing a department-issued black polo shirt with the Dawson County Sheriff's logo on the front left side. He was also wearing a badge and his firearm was visible, according to Carlisle.
Wooten was placed on leave following the arrest while internal affairs investigated, but was reinstated to his full capacity when it was determined he followed departmental protocol when arresting Tisdale.
Burts said they were misled
Burt, who owns the popular tourist spot near Amicalola Falls State Park, has maintained he instructed Wooten to have Tisdale stop recording.
Tisdale counters that she had told Burt's wife, Kathy, when she got to the farm of her intention to record the speakers.
The Burts, who deny that contention, have said they were misled to believe Tisdale was at the event as part of Gov. Nathan Deal's entourage.
"What she did is she came in and told my wife and daughter that she was there with the governor to record him, so we thought she was part of their party," Johnny Burt said days after the incident.
According to Johnny Burt, he instructed Wooten to get Tisdale to stop making a video recording of the speakers. When she refused, Burt said he ordered Wooten to make her leave.
"She tried to hit Tony with the camera and he had to remove the camera from her hand and she slapped him in the face and I saw that. Tony only done what he was asked to do by the property owner and that was me," Burt said.
Had she cooperated with the request to stop recording, Burt said she could have stayed.
Burt's Farm, along with the Georgia Republican Party, Lumpkin County Republican Party, Dawson County Republican Party, Attorney Clint Bearden, Carlisle, Wooten, and Officers Laura Bishop and Russell Smith were also listed in the notice.
$200,000 city of Cumming settlement
Sam Olens, the state's attorney general, was the only official present at the rally to address the arrest publically.
"If we stand for anything as a party, what are we afraid of having a lady with a camera filming us? 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?" he told the crowd.
Previously, Olens filed a lawsuit against the city of Cumming after Tisdale was told by Mayor H. Ford Gravitt that she could not video the council's April 17, 2012 meeting.
The city of Cumming's liability insurance carrier settled with Tisdale for $200,000.
As of Tuesday afternoon, a court date for the case had not been set.