STORY WAS UPDATED:
DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — It was a week of mixed emotions for Nydia Tisdale, the camera-wielding citizen journalist.
She received a positive ruling on her two-year-old Open Meetings case against the City of Cumming. However, two days later, she was kicked out of another political event and this time arrested in Dawsonville.
On Aug. 21, Judge Robert Adamson ruled in favor of State Attorney General Sam Olens in a lawsuit filed on June 2012. In that case, Tisdale was told by the City of Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt to stop filming a council meeting that took place April, 17, 2012. She complained to the Attorney General who took on the case.
Judge Adamson ruled that the city will have to pay $12,000 in penalties and also ordered the city to pay attorney’s fees in an amount to be determined at a later hearing.
“This ruling is a major victory for government transparency,” said Olens in a news release. “Georgians deserve a government that operates openly and honestly. The essence of our democracy is that elected officials are held accountable to the citizens and that citizens are allowed to exercise their rights granted by the First Amendment.”
City Attorney Kevin Tallant said that the city is going to file an appeal.
This will go to the Georgia Court of Appeals, a three-judge panel that will hear the case.
Since April 2012, the City of Cumming has allowed Tisdale to video record all meetings she attends.
The celebration was short lived by Tisdale, 51, of Roswell, who had been video recording the GOP rally Aug. 23 held at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm in Dawsonville for her YouTube channel and AboutForsyth.com blog.
Tisdale told the Forsyth Herald she identified herself to the property owner, who even offered her a slice of pumpkin pie.
But State Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, on the stage talking about the state senate race makes a comment about Tisdale and her camera.
“I don’t know why you’re videotaping, but yes, I said puke,” Hudgens can be heard saying in an audio recording of the event made public by FetchYourNews.com.
Hudgens said he had no problem with Tisdale filming the event.
But a moment later, Clint Bearden, former Dawson County Republican Chairman, told Tisdale to cut the video camera off or leave.
Minutes later, Bearden returns with Dawson County Sheriff’s Cpt. Tony Wooten, who forcibly removes a screaming Tisdale and her camera.
According to a sheriff’s arrest report, Tisdale was charged with criminal trespass and obstruction of an officer, or resisting arrest. Wooten told a judge that Tisdale had elbowed as well as kicked him in the right shin.
The arrest is being investigated by the Dawson Sheriff’s Office. Wooten, who was on paid leave during a brief investigation, has since been cleared of any wrongdoing.
Dawson Sheriff Billy Carlisle tells FetchYourNews.com that the property owner can ask a person to leave the property, and if they refuse, they can be arrested.
“If an officer’s there, they can ask a person to leave also and if they refuse, then the officer can make the arrest right then and there,” Carlisle said.
Carlisle said that his deputy was suspended because, "When there are serious accusations made against one of my officers, it is my duty to look into it," Carlisle tells the Dawson Advertiser."Those were serious accusations. I just want all the facts out there. It's standard procedure to place a deputy on paid leave during an investigation."
Tisdale, who says she did not leave the event without resisting, calls the arrest unjust, unexpected and unnecessary. She says she was simply there to let voters hear the candidates in their own words, as she has in the past.
“So they can make an informed decision,” she said. “Many people don’t even know there’s an election going on.”
Tisdale said she has bruising from the incident and is terrified to listen to the recordings of the event.
Attorney General Olens, who was also at the GOP rally, made comments in defense of Tisdale.
“If we stand for anything as a party what are we afraid of with the lady having a camera filming us?” Olens said. “What are we saying here that shouldn't be on film? What message are we sending? Because 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?”
Olens, a longtime advocate of open government, in 2012 championed the first overhaul of Georgia’s Open Meetings and Open Records Acts in more than a decade.
Gov. Nathan Deal and David Perdue were also speaking at the Burt’s Pumpkin Farm event, along with Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black; Labor Commissioner Mark Butler and Congressman Doug Collins.
Tisdale also has a federal lawsuit pending against the City of Cumming for what she calls infringement on her rights as a citizen.
In April of this year, the Republican Women of Forsyth County kicked Tisdale out of their meeting luncheon where several candidates running for public office were scheduled to speak.
In February, she was told to turn her camera off during a Saturday City of Roswell meeting.
“I’m usually pretty quiet, I’m just recording,” Tisdale said. “I prefer to stay behind the camera.”