DAWSONVILLE — The woman at the center of controversy in connection with her arrest at Burt's Pumpkin Farm in 2014 appeared in court on Tuesday to answer to criminal charges brought against her when she refused to quit videoing a political rally and to leave the property when requested.
Nydia Tisdale, 52, of Roswell entered not guilty pleas to each of her three charges during a formal arraignment before Northeastern Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Bonnie Oliver.
Tisdale, who bills herself as a citizen journalist, said she wanted to have a formal arraignment to document all aspects of the criminal proceedings against her.
"It was terrifying," she said afterwards.
Several friends and supporters were in court with Tisdale for the arraignment. Others she did not know personally were also with her for support, she said.
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.
She was indicted on the charges in November.
Tisdale was taken into custody at an Aug. 23, 2014, 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 Sheriff Billy Carlisle, Tisdale was advised that Johnny Burt, owner of the pumpkin farm where the local Republican Party event was held, wanted her to stop recording, and that she should leave the property if she didn't agree to do so.
When Tisdale refused to stop recording or to leave the farm, 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.
Seeks $550K for pain and suffering
In August, 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 say 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.
When she refused, Burt said he ordered Wooten to make her leave.
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 said they were misled to believe Tisdale was at the event as part of Gov. Nathan Deal's entourage.
According to Johnny Burt, he instructed Wooten to get Tisdale to stop making a video recording of the speakers.
Had she cooperated with the request to stop recording, Burt said she could have stayed.
$200K city of Cumming settlement
Previously, State of Georgia General Attorney Sam Olens, who was also present at the Burt's Pumpkin Farm event, 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 meeting on April 17, 2012.
The city of Cumming's insurers settled with Tisdale for $200,000.