A Georgia deputy has been placed on administrative leave, paid, of course, after arresting a woman on felony charges for recording a political rally Saturday.
Nydia Tisdale, a citizen journalist who has a history of standing up for her right to record in public – and winning – was charged with felony obstruction of an officer and criminal trespass, after she refused to turn off her camera at a “meet and greet” for republican governor, Nathan Deal and other republican candidates.
The event was held on a private farm, but open to the public. And Dawson County Deputy Tony Wooten was wearing his badge, but working off-duty as a private security guard, acting on a request by the owner of the farm to have Tisdale shut her camera off.
All because she had recorded a republican candidate make an unfavorable comment about a democratic candidate.
It began with a speech by state Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, who has earned local renown for speaking off the cuff. Last August, Hudgens became a video star on Democratic websites, when he declared himself an Obamacare “obstructionist.”
But on Saturday, Hudgens’ target was Democrat Michelle Nunn, the U.S. Senate candidate, and her recent debate performance with Republican David Perdue. “I thought I was going to absolutely puke,” the state insurance commissioner said to much laughter.
And then he looked at Tisdale, who was on the same front row as Gov. Nathan Deal and his wife. “I don’t know why you’re videotaping,” Hudgens said.
Organizers of the event said they had barred Democratic trackers and their cameras – which they could, given that it was on private property. But Tisdale is not a tracker. “I don’t sell my work. I put it up on YouTube,” she would later explain.
This comment from Hudgens noticeably changed the mood in the room about Tisdale recording the event, especially for Bearden. Hudgens introduced Richard Woods. While Woods was speaking, Bearden went and sat next to Tisdale, and according to Tisdale, he asked her to stop videoing or she would have to leave. Tisdale told him that she was invited and would not stop. When FYN asked Bearden for a comment, he referred us to the authorities that arrested Tisdale for comment.
As Woods continued to speak, Bearden went to Deputy Wooten for assistance. I then watched Bearden go and speak to the property owners Johnny and Kathy Burt. By this time, Labor Commissioner Mark Butler had started speaking. Bearden returned and said something to Wooten. At this time both Bearden and Wooten approached Tisdale. Wooten told her she had to turn the camera off. Tisdale refused and continued to video. Wooten started to try to remove the camera from Tisdale’s hands. When she refused and struggled to keep the camera running, Wooten began to physically remove her from the event. Tisdale physically resisted being removed turning the camera on Wooten screaming,
“Identify yourself, who are you?”
Butler paused as everyone watched Tisdale struggling with Wooten. Deputy Wooten then physically removed Tisdale as she continued to scream and video him.
The event was advertised as a public event by Governor Deal’s campaign through social media. No restrictions were stated on the invitation. It did not state that journalists were prohibited, nor did the invitations have any other conditions. I accepted the invitation and the campaign knew I was attending three days before the event. Tisdale told FYN she accepted the same invitation and they also knew she was coming. Tisdale even promoted the event for a week on various forms of social media including Twitter. A source told FYN that the local paper in the Dawsonville area advertised the event as ‘open to the public’.
After Tisdale was arrested, the rally continued as if nothing had happened until Georgia’s attorney general, Sam Olens, took the microphone and tried to talk sense to his fellow republicans.
“Let me be possibly politically incorrect here for a second. If we stand for anything as a party what are we afraid of with the lady having a camera filming us? What are we saying here that shouldn’t be on film? What message are we sending? Cause it’s private property they shouldn’t be filming? What is the harm? The harm that this poses is far greater than her filming us. What are we hiding? If we are telling you why we are running and what we stand for, what are we hiding?”
It just so happens, Olens had stood up for Tisdale’s right to record after she was ejected from a public meeting in 2012, filing a lawsuit on her behalf against the city of Cumming, which was also a defendant in a key 2000 case that affirmed citizens’ right to record police in public.
On August 21, 2014, Judge Robert Adamson ruled in favor of Attorney General Sam Olens in a lawsuit filed in June 2012 against the City of Cumming and Mayor Henry Ford Gravitt for violations of the Open Meetings Act. Judge Adamson ordered the defendants to pay $12,000 in penalties, the highest amount possible under the law. Defendants have also been ordered to pay attorney’s fees in an amount to be determined at a later hearing.
“This ruling is a major victory for government transparency,” said Olens. “Georgians deserve a government that operates openly and honestly. The essence of our democracy is that elected officials are held accountable to the citizens and that citizens are allowed to exercise their rights granted by the First Amendment.”
At a Cumming City Council meeting on April 17, 2012, Mayor Gravitt demanded that citizen Nydia Tisdale cease filming the meeting and subsequently ordered her to leave the meeting. Ms. Tisdale returned to the meeting with another hand held camera and was again told to stop recording the meeting. Georgia’s Open Meetings Act expressly provides that visual and sound recording during open meetings shall be permitted.
“My office takes very seriously our responsibility to enforce the Open Meetings and Open Records Acts,” Olens added. “The actions by the mayor in this circumstance were egregious, and it is essential that he be held responsible for his actions.”
So Olens definitely deserves to be reelected this November for not allowing partisanship interfere with the Constitution.
According to Sheriff Billy Carlisle, Tisdale was advised that the owner of Burt’s Pumpkin Farm, where the local Republican Party event was held, wanted her to stop recording and leave.
“The property owner opened his property up for this event to happen on his property,” Carlisle said. “He has the right to invite guests on his property. And he also has a right to ask people to leave. And if you refuse to leave, then you’re committing the offense of criminal trespass.”
Johnny Burt and his wife Kathy, who own the popular tourist attraction on Hwy. 52 in northeastern Dawson, played host to the event, which initially was billed as a meet-and-greet with Gov. Nathan Deal and U.S. Senate candidate David Perdue.
By the weekend, the rally had grown to include District 9 U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, State School Superintendent hopeful Richard Woods and the heads of the state agriculture, insurance and labor departments, among others.
Sheriff’s Capt. Tony Wooten, who was at the event in his official capacity, made the arrest.
“[Organizers] had requested that we have an officer presence there at the event for security and that’s what he was there for,” Carlisle said.
When Tisdale refused to stop recording and leave the farm, Wooten attempted to escort her off the property, according to the sheriff.
“That’s when she kicked him in the shin and elbowed him in the mouth,” Carlisle said. “From that point on, she was charged with criminal trespass and felony obstruction.”
Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle said the decision to place Capt. Tony Wooten on paid leave came after investigators reviewed a video taken by the woman at the event at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm.
Nydia Tisdale, 51, was charged with felony obstruction of an officer and criminal trespass, a misdemeanor after she was asked to stop recording the political speakers but refused on Saturday.
“In light of all this that happened Saturday afternoon at the political rally, we started gathering all the facts together…and then once we started getting reports together, we [drew] a search warrant up to obtain the portion of the video from the rally of the arrest,” Carlisle said. “After reviewing that, I felt it was necessary for me to launch an internal investigation into the arrest and removal of Ms. Tisdale from the political rally.”
According to Carlisle, it is standard procedure to place a deputy on paid administrative leave when he or she is part of an internal affairs probe.
“All we want to do is find out the true facts. I was not there. We had a lot of different things going on in the county Saturday and I wasn’t there at this event,” he said. “All I’m hearing is what other people are saying and what my officer told me. I need to go in there and get the facts and make sure we did everything we were supposed to be doing and that we done it right.”
Investigators are now setting up interviews with witnesses, including Tisdale, who Carlisle said has agreed to meet with them in connection with the internal affairs review.
Initially, Carlisle had said Wooten was performing security for the event in his official capacity as a sheriff’s deputy.
After speaking with his counsel, Carlisle said he learned that officers working private security jobs are not considered “on duty.”
According to Tisdale’s Facebook page, her camera is still in the possession of the sheriff’s office, but will be picked up today. She has not yet responded to my request for comment, but she has obviously has a lot going on now.
The video below is from Fetch Your News, which provided the following key moments to look for in the video:
At reference point 3:50 within the video recording, Hudgen’s comments concerning Michelle Nunn and Tisdale can be heard. At the 12:15 reference point, Tisdale can be heard demanding that Wooten to identify himself. At the 14:12 reference point, Tisdale’s loud screams become audible, claiming that Wooten was hurting her. At the 24:10 mark, Attorney General, Sam Olen’s comments can be heard.
UPDATE: Tisdale has posted her video on her blog, which you can see below. The video goes on for fourteen minutes with candidates speaking about why they should be elected until the burly deputy confronts her and begins manhandling her. So fast forward to the 14:00 mark if you want to bypass the usual political rhetoric.
Deputy Wooten then accuses her of resisting his “lawful duties,” but it was clear that he was the one acting unlawfully.