Attorneys for a Roswell woman arrested last summer during a political rally in Dawson County have filed notice that a lawsuit is looming unless a settlement can be reached.
According to the notice, Nydia Tisdale is seeking $550,000 for the pain and suffering caused when she was arrested Aug. 23, 2014 after she refused to stop using her video camera to record speakers at the rally in northeastern Dawson County at the request of the property owner.
When reached Friday, Tisdale referred questions to her attorneys.
"What we're basically asking for is the responsible parties to come to the table and try to work this out short of a lawsuit," Attorney Gerry Weber said Friday.
The Dawson County Board of Commissioners and Dawson County Sheriff's Office were named in the notice.
"What we are required to file is this ante-litem notice with respect to these two defendants. There are many other possible defendants, but they are not required to be included in this docket," Weber said.
Burt's Farm, Georgia Republican Party, Lumpkin County Republican Party, Dawson County Republican Party, Attorney Clint Bearden, Sheriff Billy Carlisle and officers Tony Wooten, Laura Bishop and Russell Smith were also listed in the notice.
Tisdale demands public apology
Tisdale also wants a public apology from Wooten, the arresting officer, who she claims made inappropriate contact with her while attempting to take her into custody.
The notice accuses Wooten of pressing "his groin against her buttocks...which constitutes both assault and sexual battery" and left "Ms. Tisdale with bruising and scratches to her chest, wrists, arms, feet, waist and pelvic areas...resulting from Capt. Wooten forcing Ms. Tisdale against the countertop with the weight of his body."
Violation of Constitutional Rights
According to the notice, 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."
"It is undisputed that Nydia was confronted because she was simply filming a public event," Weber said. "It's undisputed that other people were filming the event, and basically, everything was caught on video.
"It's terrible to watch and we would hope the government officials in particular would feel responsible to ensure that free press is respected and that transparency and openness in government is respected."
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," according to her attorneys.
Those actions, her attorneys said, "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.
Carlisle referred questions to County Attorney Joey Homans.
"The law suit was forwarded to Joey's office to handle," he said. "All I can comment on as of right now is that we have been served with the suit by certified mail and have forwarded to our attorney for a response to her attorney."
Homans said the matter has been turned over to the county's insurance carrier through ACCG (the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.)
"All we have at this point is a claim," he said. "We've assigned it to the carrier, and we'll consult with the carrier and respond based on what Ms. Tisdale decides to do."
According to Carlisle, Tisdale was advised that Johnny Burt, owner of Burt's Pumpkin Farm where the local Republican Party event was held, wanted her to stop recording and leave the Aug. 23, 2014 rally.
When Tisdale refused to stop recording and leave the farm, Wooten attempted to escort her off the property. It was then that Tisdale reportedly kicked and fought with Wooten.
"From that point on, she was charged with criminal trespass and felony obstruction," he said.
Tisdale wants those charges, which have yet to be prosecuted, dismissed.
"We were waiting to hear what would happen with the criminal charges and they've just kind of sat there in limbo for so long," Weber said. "Nothing's been scheduled, nothing at all."
Burts said they were misled
Tisdale has maintained that she had told Johnny 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. "She promptly sat down on the front row on the end where she would be right in their face and was making everybody uncomfortable."
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.
Citizen journalism challenged
Tisdale, who describes herself as a "citizen journalist," contends she did nothing wrong.
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.
"Before I knew it, my arm was being forced behind my back and I was being shoved and pushed outside the tent and past the audience and up an incline. I protested. I didn't know who he was," she said last year.
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.
Internal affairs clears Wooten
The incident led Carlisle to conduct an internal affairs probe to determine if protocol was followed during the arrest.
Wooten was placed on paid administrative leave, a standard procedure when an officer is part of an internal affairs probe according to Carlisle, while investigators reviewed evidence and interviewed those who saw the arrest.
The investigation revealed Wooten acted lawfully. He was cleared of any wrongdoing and reinstated to his full capacity as an officer.
"All the witnesses we've talked to ... conclude Capt. Wooten was acting in the lawful performance of his duties at the request of the property owner to have Ms. Tisdale to stop recording and when she refused, to have her removed from the property," Carlisle said.
$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 settled with Tisdale for $200,000.
Dawson County and the Dawson County Sheriff's Office must respond to the notice by Sept. 10.