U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale arrested and attacked by police officer while filming rally

Incident Details

Date of Incident
August 23, 2014

Assault

Was the journalist targeted?
Yes
Equipment Seized
Status of Seized Equipment
Returned in full
Search Warrant Obtained
No
Actor who seized equipment
Law enforcement

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Arresting Authority
Dawson County Sheriff’s Office
Charges
Unnecessary use of force?
Yes

Equipment Damage

Nydia Tisdale

A screengrab from Nydia Tisdale's video shows Dawsonville County Sheriff's Office deputy Tony Wooten pushing her into a countertop before taking her into custody.

— Nydia Tisdale
August 23, 2014

Nydia Tisdale, an independent video journalist, was arrested and charged with criminal trespass and obstruction of an officer while filming Republican candidates’ speeches at a rally in Dawsonville, Georgia, on Aug. 23, 2014.

On Dec. 4, 2017, Tisdale was convicted of misdemeanor obstruction of a law enforcement officer but acquitted of felony charges.

Tisdale runs and owns AboutForsyth, an independent news website, and regularly documents and films videos of public meetings.

She told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that, on Aug. 23, 2014, she attended a rally for Republican candidates at Burt’s Farm, a private pumpkin farm in Dawsonville, Georgia.

As she was filming the speeches, she said, she was physically accosted by Dawson County Sheriff’s Office Captain Tony Wooten.

“Fifteen minutes into the rally, I was attacked,” Tisdale said. “I was grabbed out of my chair, twisted up, and one hand was yanked off my tripod. I was pushed and pulled and dragged and spinned in circles, and [Wooten] twisted my arm behind my back, and forced me into the barn, and slammed me against the countertop.”

Tisdale's video of her arrest

Nydia Tisdale

In video of the altercation recorded by Tisdale, she can be heard repeatedly asking Wooten, “What is your name? What is your name, sir?”

Wooten refuses to give her his name and says, “I’ve been real nice, but now you’re going to jail for resisting arrest.”

“You’ll see [my name] on the warrant when we get to the jail,” he tells her at another point in the video.

Tisdale protests that she has the right to film the public rally — “this was a public event posted on Facebook by [Georgia] governor [Nathan] Deal,” she says — and claims that she received permission to film from Kathy Burt, who owns Burt’s Farm along with her husband.

“I spoke with several candidates, and they didn’t mind,” she says. “Kathy Burt said it was OK. I spoke with her when I first arrived!”

In the video, Johnny Burt says that she does not permission to film the rally: “Listen, I’m the owner and I say no.”
Burt’s Farm did not respond to a request for comment.

The video ends shortly after Wooten forcibly pushes away Tisdale’s camera, at which point Tisdale can be heard screaming off-screen, “Ow, that hurts! You’re hurting me! You are really hurting me!”

Tisdale told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that after the video was shut off, two uniformed Dawson County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived to take her into custody. At this point, she said, Wooten finally revealed his name and formally placed her under arrest, but did not give a reason for the arrest or read Tisdale her Miranda rights.

Tisdale was eventually charged with felony obstruction, felony trespassing, and misdemeanor obstruction of an officer. At trial, prosecutors accused her of elbowing and kicking Wooten.

The Dawson County Sheriff’s Office seized Tisdale’s camera when she was arrested and held it in custody for six days before returning it to her.

Tisdale believes that the police may have edited her video footage of the altercation.

She said that she checked the video footage on her camera once it was returned to her and noticed that her video footage had been split into two separate videos, and the portion of the video in which she could be heard screaming had been inexplicably deleted.

An audio recording of the incident, captured by Brian Pritchard of FetchYourNews, clearly shows that Tisdale screamed for help during the altercation.

Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the department had not edited Tisdale’s video footage.

Tisdale said that she had bruises on her arms, feet, and pelvic region for days after the altercation and had trouble eating and sleeping.

In August 2016, Tisdale filed a sexual assault complaint against Captain Tony Wooten, alleging that he pushed his crotch into her buttocks while he bent her over a countertop. That case was stayed pending the outcome of the criminal charges against Tisdale.

On Aug. 8, 2016, Tony Wooten resigned from the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office.

On Dec. 4, 2017, a Dawsonville jury convicted Tisdale on a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of an officer, but acquitted her of felony charges of obstruction and trespassing.

“This is a partial victory, but not a complete victory, and I maintain my innocence of all charges,” Tisdale told the Freedom of the Press Foundation. “Video recording is not a crime.”

On Dec. 18, 2017, Tisdale was sentenced to 12 months probation, 40 hours of community service, and a $1000 fine.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]