Attorneys for a woman arrested last year at Burts Pumpkin farm for videotaping a public GOP rally have filed notice of their intent to sue for $550,000 the Dawson County Sheriffs Office, Capt. Tony Wooten, Burts Pumpkin Farm, Attorney Clint Bearden, organizers of the event and two additional sheriffs deputies.
Nydia Tisdale, 52, was arrested Aug. 23, 2014, and charged with criminal trespass and felony obstruction of an officer after she refused requests to turn off her video camera.
An Ante Litem Notice was filed Aug. 20, three days shy of the one-year anniversary of her arrest, by Caplan Cobb, LLP, a law firm based in Atlanta, and Gerry Weber with the law office of Gerry Weber, LLC.
What precipitated this was the arrest of Nydia Tisdale for filming an event where others were also filming, Weber said. She was both arrested and brutalized by the officer (Capt. Tony Wooten). And, ultimately, we think this matter is important because free press is important. In our view, government officials should defend a citizens right to free speech and open government.
Wooten was placed on paid leave pending the outcome of an internal, 48-hour investigation into his conduct during Tisdales arrest.
The recent notice states: Capt. Wooten grabbed her, bound her hands behind her back, forced Ms. Tisdale out of the event and into a barn, bent her over a counter, pressed his groin against her buttocks, and pinned her down while she screamed for help.
A two-day investigation conducted by Dawson County Maj. Ray Goodie, and interviews with three or four eyewitnesses, cleared Wooten of any wrongdoing. He was reinstated after two days off the job.
The notice alleges Wootens violent conduct toward Tisdale constituted assault and sexual battery and caused bruising and scratches on her chest, wrists, arms, feet, waist and pelvic area.
Burts Farm named in notice
Along with the other parties, Burts Farm, LLC was expected to provide a safe and secure environment, according to the legal notice.
(they) failed to exercise ordinary care to prevent the injuries inflicted by Capt. Wooten and failed to warn Ms. Tisdale that her public recording of the event could lead to the violent response of Capt. Wooten, and event organizers failed to intervene and stop his conduct .
Claims assert video camera altered
The notice also alleges Tisdales video recording, which was held as evidence by the sheriffs office, was digitally altered and critical portions that captured Capt. Wootens use of excessive force and Ms. Tisdales screams for help had been deleted.
Sheriff Billy Carlisle explained.
We got a search warrant Tuesday (Aug. 26, 2014) for her video camera, and we downloaded the section about Burts Pumpkin Farm, Carlisle said during an earlier interview with the Dawson News & Advertiser. We went to just that part of that time and day and reviewed. Thats when I went to the County Attorney (Joey Homans).
Homans was contacted for comment on the Ante Litem Notice.
I received a copy from Ms. Tisdales attorneys sent to the sheriff and county regarding the claim that may be filed against parties that may include the sheriff and the county, Homans said via email Thursday. I forwarded the claim to the countys liability insurance carrier. I will work with the insurance company adjuster and attorney regarding the investigation of the claim and defenses asserted.
Also asserted is violation of Tisdales rights under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution by retaliating against her (Tisdale) 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.
Their actions also constituted negligence, false imprisonment, assault, battery, conversion, trespass, the intentional inflection of emotional distress and violations of the Georgia Computer Systems Protection Act (OCGA 16-9-93), the notice states.
Deputies and attorney also named
Two other Dawson County deputies named in the notice are: Cpl. Russell Smith and Cpl. Laura Bishop. Smith formally arrested Tisdale, and Bishop placed her in a DCSO car, took her to jail, and booked her without asking whether probable cause existed for her arrest and without reading her standard Miranda warnings.
Former Dawson County Republican Party Chair and attorney, Clint Bearden, helped host the GOP Rally. He asserted to Tisdale there was a policy of the Georgia Republican Party against filming the GOP Rally.
When Ms. Tisdale asked to see the policy, Mr. Bearden left, the notice states.
Bearden works for the law firm of Georgia House Speaker David Ralston.
In attendance at the Aug. 23, 2014, GOP rally were Gov. Nathan Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal, U.S. Senate candidate David Perdue, Attorney General Sam Olens, Congressman Doug Collins (9th district), Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, state school superintendent candidate Richard Woods, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, and Department of Labor Commissioner Mark Butler. It was during Butler's remarks that Tisdale was asked to turn off her camera.
In addition to seeking $550,000 in damages, Tisdale also seeks recovery of her attorneys fees and costs, which will substantially increase should it be necessary to pursue additional legal action.
She also seeks dismissal of charges against her, expungement of any record of charges, a declaration that the actions described in the notice violated her constitutional rights, and a public apology from Wooten.
It would be in their best interests to settle, Weber said. We have expressed a willingness to meet and talk through a resolution. At this point, defendants have to talk among themselves and explore. The ball is in their court.