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States case against citizen journalist up in the air
Defenses motion for immunity not yet granted
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The criminal case against citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale moved forward this week as a pre-trial motions hearing was held at the Dawson County courthouse.

Tisdale's attorney, Bruce Harvey, motioned for his client to be given immunity, meaning she would potentially be released from charges of felony obstruction of an officer, misdemeanor criminal trespass and misdemeanor obstruction of an officer.

Harvey argued that Tisdale should be given immunity because she was exercising clearly established First Amendment rights in filming in a public political forum, has a statutory right to protect herself against physical assault and had a right to resist unlawful arrest.

The case was heard late into the evening on Tuesday before carrying into Wednesday afternoon.

At the end of the hearing on Wednesday the judge decided that Harvey and Assistant District Attorney Conley Greer would each compose a brief of legal arguments.

Harvey has 30 days from his receipt of the pre-trial transcripts to write a brief and submit it to the court.

Greer, acting for the state, will then have a further 30 days to respond with his own brief.

The court will then consider the arguments of both parties and issue a written order, either granting Tisdale immunity, or sending the criminal case to trial.

Harvey withdrew his motion to suppress evidence, as well as his motion to disqualify District Attorney Lee Darragh from the trial.

Both of those motions were originally filed on May 2.

Tisdale, a resident of Roswell, was arrested Aug. 23, 2014, after she refused to stop videoing a political rally at Burt's Pumpkin Farm in northwestern Dawson County and leave the property when requested.

Tisdale, who bills herself as a citizen journalist, films local government meetings and political events and posts the videos to her YouTube account.

"I have been videoing for five years," she said. "I provide information for the public to learn more about their local government."

Tisdale was removed from the Republican Party rally by then-Dawson County Sheriff's Capt. Tony Wooten, and held in the Burt's barn until two other officers arrived to take her to jail.

She was indicted on the obstruction and trespassing charges in November and pleaded not guilty to all counts in March.

Because Harvey had filed a motion for Tisdale to receive immunity, Judge Bonnie Oliver presided over this week's evidentiary hearing, wherein the defendant was given a chance to establish why she should be immune from prosecution.

Likewise, Greer was also given a chance to provide evidence as to why the immunity should not be granted.

Tisdale took the stand on Tuesday and gave testimony, explaining the details of the event and her alleged illegal arrest as she remembered them.

According to Tisdale, she was sitting quietly in front of the speakers, videoing, when she was approached three times by men who would not identify themselves, who asked her to stop or leave.

Tisdale said she asked for the policy stating she could not video, but no policy was produced.

When the third person approached her, Tisdale said she was "frogmarched" out of the rally area and taken into the barn, where the man pushed her up against a countertop and bent her over with her left arm behind her back, all without identifying himself.

"No one identified themselves as law enforcement," Tisdale said, until two sheriff's deputies arrived at the scene.

"When the sound of their tires hit the gravel drive, that is when Capt. Wooten stepped away from my body," Tisdale said. "When they entered the barn I asked him again ‘Who are you?' and when the other deputies were in earshot he responded: Capt. Tony Wooten, you are under arrest."

Tisdale also testified that she was sexually assaulted by Wooten.

"He was inflicting harm to my body. I have never felt anything like that in my entire life ... I was in agony," Tisdale testified. "He had me pushed up against a countertop with his crotch pushing against my buttocks."

Tisdale's lawyer argued that Tisdale was unlawfully arrested, as the event was advertised as open to the public and there were no signs or other written statements at the farm stating that recording or photography was not allowed, meaning Tisdale was not violating the law.

The video that Tisdale posted of the rally and her arrest, in which indistinguishable conversations can be heard in the background, was played for the court in its entirety.

Wooten took the stand on Wednesday and shared his version of events, including the particulars of his initial conversation with Tisdale and her eventual arrest.

Wooten said that he was on duty, and had volunteered to work the event when Clint Bearden called him and asked.

Wooten said that when he arrested Tisdale, he was acting for the safety of Tisdale and the other people at the rally, as he had been trained to do.

"When you have someone act like that around the Governor, you try to get them away safely," Wooten said. "The only area I knew I could secure her was the counter in the barn."

He said that he identified himself as an officer with the Dawson County Sheriff's Office when he approached her to ask her to stop recording, and that he did not give Tisdale his name until she became calm.

"The time to discuss names is not when someone is resisting and trying to get away," he said.

Greer argued that Tisdale had been recording on private property without permission from the owners, had misrepresented herself to the owners and had violated the law by refusing to stop videoing or leave private property when asked by the owners of that property.

Four other witnesses also took the stand during the proceedings, including Burt's Pumpkin Farm owners Johnny and Kathy Burt and their daughter Casey Sanders, and local attorney and Dawson County resident Clint Bearden.

The Burts advised that they had been under the impression that Tisdale was attending the rally to video for Gov. Nathan Deal, and that they had been asked by members of the Republican Party to have Tisdale stop recording or leave.

According to witnesses, Republican Party representatives had earlier asked a member of the Democratic party to leave because they feared that he would be recording the rally in order to video the candidates saying things that could be used against them.

Both Burts mentioned in their testimony that they were embarrassed by the events they witnessed that day.

"She disturbed the whole meeting," said Johnny Burt. "It was very embarrassing. Very embarrassing."

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.

The notice said Tisdale is seeking $550,000.

In 2015, Tisdale was awarded $200,000 in a settlement by the City of Cumming, where she was thrown, illegally, from a city council meeting that she was attempting to record.

Tisdale also recently filed a suit against the Burts seeking punitive damages, litigation which she filed on August 22 with the Dawson County Superior Court.

She also wrote a letter citing her intention to file sexual assault charges against Wooten. The letter was posted to her personal website, and sent to Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan and Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens.

Tisdale has not formally filed any sexual assault litigation against Wooten at this time.