At long last, it looks as though the law will finally get its (wo)man. Fourteen months after a Dawson County (GA) deputy arrested citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale for filming a political rally at a local pumpkin farm, Sheriff Billy Carlisle is patting himself on the back for turning a potential civil liberties violation into a ham sandwich.
The indictment handed down by a Dawson County Grand Jury shows Nydia Pinzon Tisdale, 52, is now facing a third charge in connection with her Aug. 23, 2014 arrest.
Initially booked on felony obstruction of officer and misdemeanor criminal trespass charges, authorities have also added misdemeanor obstruction of officer to the counts against her.
"I'm proud to see this case being presented to the grand jury and allowing our court system to work as it was designed," said Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle. "I appreciate the citizens who sat on this grand jury, listening to all the evidence and bringing forth a true bill.
"I look forward to this case working its way on through our courts and hopefully, at the end, we will have a guilty verdict from a jury of our peers."
I imagine Carlisle is hoping for a jury of his
peers, rather than, say, a jury of the accused's peers. Jim Galloway at AJC.com points out the timing of this indictment seems rather fortuitous.
One has to wonder if the timely – timeless? — indictment might have something to do with the fact that Tisdale has served notice that she intends to file a $550,000 lawsuit against the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office and Dawson County Board of Commissioners.
An audio recording of the arrest can be heard at FetchYourNews.com
, along with still photos of the arrest captured by Brian Pritchard, whose documentation of the political rally received no additional attention from local law enforcement.
The attention paid to Tisdale's recording appears to stem from earlier efforts local politicians made to keep her and her camera away from their gatherings.
In 2012, the mayor of Cumming, Ga., had tossed Tisdale from a city council meeting – for pointing her camera at the proceedings.
[Attorney General Sam] Olens had taken up for the 51-year-old journalist. Two days earlier, the attorney general told her, a judge had signed an order that leveled a $12,000 fine at the city and mayor for violating the state’s open meetings law.
Not only was the city fined by a judge, but it also handed over a $200,000 settlement
to Tisdale for violating her First Amendment rights. Attorney General Sam Olens was instrumental in pursuing the lawsuit against the city government.
Obviously, a little antagonism goes a long way. The arrest at Burt's Pumpkin Farm was deemed justified because it occurred on private property. Supposedly the owner had told Tisdale to stop filming the rally. (No explanation has been forthcoming as to why another journalist was allowed to shoot photographs and otherwise record the event). This is the sort of request a person can make on private property, but a rather strange one to make on private property that is also somewhat of a tourist attraction and is, for all intents and purposes, open to the public. On top of that, the political rally was also open to the public, but not, apparently, a certain citizen journalist carrying a video camera.
Both the request that Tisdale stop filming and law enforcement's actions were highly questionable. FetchYourNews states that the request only came after
one of the rally speakers said something that he might have wanted to pass by unrecorded
With Tisdale’s camera rolling, Hudgens started making his campaign stump speech. When talking about Democratic Candidate for U.S. Senate Michelle Nunn, referring to the Chamber of Commerce debate between Perdue and Nunn, Hudgens said listening to Nunn, “I thought I was going to absolutely puke.”
Hudgens looked at Tisdale and said, “I don’t know why you’re video taping?”
According to FetchYourNews, Dawson GOP Chair Clint Bearden asked Tisdale to stop recording and leave. Farm owner Johnny Burt's statement to Dawson News in response to the grand jury indictment claims he
was the one who asked Tisdale to stop recording. The FYN report says all of the involved parties disappeared in one of Burt's barns along with the now-arrested Tisdale to discuss what should be done.
Given the disparity between the eyewitness report and Johnny Burt's statements, it appears the discussion may have included who
should be put down on the report as requesting Tisdale to stop recording. Considering everyone else involved would have been acting as representatives of the government (and with no claim to the private property), it would obviously make the most sense (legally) to have the request come from the farm owner.
Despite Tisdale's vocal protests and screaming (as she was arrested), only one person speaking at the rally made any comment about the highly visible arrest of a citizen carrying a camera: District Attorney Sam Olens.
“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?”
Then, as he pointed in the direction from where Tisdale was drug away he continued:
“There is no reason for that, that is not right”.
lawsuit apparently claims First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations
Also asserted is violation of Tisdale’s 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.
While the Fourth and Fourteenth determinations will largely come down to Deputy Wooten's actions, the First Amendment claims will be tough to make stick, considering the incident occurred on private property. Even though her removal was inconsistent (another photographer was never asked to stop or leave) and had a retaliatory appearance, private property owners are given a lot of leeway when it comes to handling guests and visitors on their property. The rally was apparently advertised as an event open to the public, but that sort of invitation doesn't turn private land into a public area.
While Deputy Wooten was off duty when he effected the arrest, this fact does little to decrease the power of his position. Law enforcement personnel still have the power to arrest and detain people, even while off the clock. The alleged retaliation probably can't be proven, especially if
the landowner asked for her to be removed after she refused to stop filming. It might be that it never occurred to Johnny Burt to kick her out before being prompted to do so by public officials, but that will be a tough sell in court -- especially if Burt maintains he was the one who demanded that Tisdale stop filming and leave the property.
If nothing else, the timing of the grand jury's indictment is conspicuous in its proximity to the announced lawsuit. It's been more than year since Tisdale's arrest at Burt's Farm, but only six weeks since the lawsuit's announcement. And, during the intervening months, prosecutors -- apparently guided by outgoing Sheriff Carlisle -- have added another charge to Tisdale's potential rap sheet.