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Citizen journalist files federal wrongful arrest lawsuit
Claims officers violated her 1st, 4th, 14th amendment at 2014 political rally
A-Tisdale Rally pic1
Citizen journalist Nydia Tysdale positions her camera prior to a press conference Tuesday in which her attorneys announced a federal lawsuit they are filing on her behalf in connection with her arrest at Burts Pumpkin Farm in 2014. - photo by Michele Hester Dawson County News

Attorneys for a citizen journalist arrested at a political rally in 2014 at Burts Pumpkin Farm have filed a federal lawsuit claiming the arresting officers violated their client's constitutional rights.

Nydia Tisdale of Roswell held a press conference Tuesday morning, just a few feet away from the Federal Courthouse in Gainesville where she's asked to take the civil case before a jury.

"I want to have my voice heard through my counsel, and through this lawsuit, and I will be vindicated," she said. "Sometimes the courtroom is the only way to settle a disagreement in our civilized society. The courtroom is the only place that this can be resolved because my rights were violated and we need to stand up for that.

"We need to defend ourselves and our rights."

Tisdale was arrested Aug. 23, 2014, after she refused to stop videoing a political rally in northwestern Dawson County and leave the property when requested.

Initially booked on felony obstruction of an 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 and pleaded not guilty to all counts in March.

The civil suit filed in federal court against three Dawson County Sheriff's deputies claims her First, Fourth and 14th Amendments were violated in the arrest.

Capt. Tony Wooten, Cpl. Russell Smith and Cpl. Laura Bishop were personally named in the suit.

The claims allege Wooten violated Tisdale's First Amendment when he shut down her filming of the event.

"Second, we allege that Capt. Wooten and the two officers he called to the scene arrested Ms. Tisdale without probable cause in violation of her 4th Amendment rights," said Attorney Brandon Waddell. "Third, we allege that the officers had no lawful basis to seize Ms. Tisdale's camera."

Waddell went on to say the force used in the arrest, which Tisdale claims left her bruised and in pain, was unlawful.

The suit also claims the charges brought against her were maliciously filed to silence her.

"And finally, we allege that these officers seized Ms. Tisdale's work product of a member of the press with no cause to believe the video related to the commission of a criminal offense in violation of the statute congress enacted to protect the press from police overreach," Waddell said.

In August, Tisdale filed notice that a lawsuit against the Dawson County Sheriff's Office and Dawson County Board of Commissioners was looming unless a settlement could be reached in the case.

According to that notice, Tisdale was 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.

Only the arresting officers were listed in the civil suit.

"They can be held personally liable and it will be up to Dawson County on whether to indemnify them," said Attorney Michael Caplan.

Tisdale maintains she has done nothing wrong.

She protested only, she said, when Wooten, whom she contends would not identify himself, attempted to escort her away from the area where the candidates were speaking.

"I never expected my citizen journalism to lead to my introduction to the criminal justice system in Georgia. I never expected to be attacked in a pumpkin farm when it wasn't even Halloween," she said. "Citizens must stand up for their rights. My case is so much bigger than me. It afflicts every member of the press in our country."

Wooten, currently one of four candidates running for Dawson County sheriff, was working security at the political event.

Sheriff Billy Carlisle said Wooten was wearing a department-issued black polo shirt with the Dawson County Sheriff's logo on the front left side, as well as his badge and a visible firearm.

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.

Wooten said department policy dictates he cannot discuss the case.

Johnny Burt, who owns the popular pumpkin patch 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.

Had she cooperated with the request to stop recording, Burt said she could have stayed.

"Nydia Tisdale believes that when public officials make public statements about matters of public importance, all members of the public should have equal access," Waddell said. "She engages in the most objective form of reporting. She films public officials making public statements and posts the videos online for free without commentary, criticism or injecting her own opinions. That's what she did on Aug. 24, 2014."

Tisdale said she wants to know why she was singled out. A second reporter was at the event and recording the speakers. He was not asked to leave.

Tisdale continued recording as she was escorted away from the speakers at the rally and into a neighboring barn. Watching the video from 2014 at the pumpkin farm is still difficult for her, she said.

"It's extremely traumatic when I watch the video. It often brings me to tears. I have watched it very few times because of that reaction that I get, physical and emotional and psychological," she said. "There's no rational, logical, legal explanation for why what happened happened.

"There is no rhyme or reason why I was attacked, why I was singled out, why I was picked out, picked on and discriminated against and bullied."

Caplan said the truth will come out in the civil trial.

"Why did Dawson County and Deputy Wooten shut her down? Why did they go so far as to arrest her? Why did they brutalize her? Why did they send her to a barn screaming? We know why," he said. "We will see in this lawsuit in very stark terms why public officials shut her down. Public officials love to talk about openness, but they prefer dark rooms.

"This lawsuit is to shed light. Nydia Tisdale is here to shed light and we are very proud to represent her today."

Attorney Gerald Weber said the lawsuit will also explore why Dawson County waited until after the threat of Tisdale's lawsuit to take her criminal case before a grand jury.

"Shortly after we sent that demand letter, the criminal charges suddenly reared their head again. They should not be motivated by the threat of litigation to bring criminal charges against any citizen," he said.

The Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney declined to comment on Tisdale's cases.

A criminal calendar call is set for June, followed by a motions hearing July 5.

The criminal case could go to trial as early as August.

Bruce Harvey, Tisdale's criminal defense attorney, did not attend Tuesday's press conference.