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Pumpkingate remains in limbo in Dawsonville 1st amendment case
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By JIM WALLS
Oct. 4, 2016 — #Pumpkingate played out again in a Dawson County courtroom today. But with no immediate resolution, Nydia Tisdale still is not #free.
Journalists and First Amendment advocates have rallied to Tisdale and her citizen-journalist cause after her 2014 arrest at a political rally at a Dawsonville pumpkin patch. The case has drawn national attention among media-watchers, who frame it as an unwarranted infringement on news coverage of political figures.
Besides their freedom-of-the-press defense, attorneys for Tisdale contend that Georgia’s stand-your-ground law gave her the right to fend off a sheriff’s deputy who did not identify himself as he wrestled her out of the rally. The 2006 law says Georgians can defend themselves with force against another’s “imminent use of unlawful force.”
In fact, the attorneys say, the law protects her from criminal or civil prosecution for standing her ground.
Witnesses testified for more than seven hours today on Tisdale’s motion to dismiss criminal charges. The hearing will resume Wednesday afternoon.
Tisdale was arrested for alleged criminal trespass and obstruction of a law enforcement officer, both misdemeanors, after refusing to stop video-recording the rally, which featured Gov. Nathan Deal, U.S. Senate candidate David Perdue and other speakers. She was indicted on a third charge of obstruction, a felony, more than a year later, shortly after she filed a $550,000 lawsuit against the Dawson County sheriff’s office.
Tisdale has posted hundreds of recording of government meetings and political events on YouTube and her website, AboutForsyth.com. She posts social-media updates on the Dawson County case with the hashtag Pumpkingate.
Bruce Harvey, Tisdale’s attorney, made much at today’s pre-trial hearing of newspaper ads and Internet announcements inviting the public to attend the rally. None, he said, barred journalists or video-recording.
Witnesses offered conflicting accounts, though, of exactly how and why Tisdale was asked to stop recording the event. A video tracker working from Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn had been asked to leave earlier, but it was unclear whether event organizers thought Tisdale was another tracker, a journalist or simply an interested citizen.
Tisdale said she told Cathy Burt, a co-owner of the pumpkin farm, that she planned to record the rally, as she had done at other meetings of public interest, and post it on YouTube. Tisdale said Burt did not object.
Burt, however, said Tisdale told her she was there to record the event for the governor. “I’m sure. I’m positive,” she said.
Later, Burt said, a friend and political operative told her and her husband that Gov. Deal had become uncomfortable with the video recording and noted that the Burts, as the property’s owners, could ask her to quit. The Burts agreed.
Tisdale testified she been sitting in the front row and recording speeches for 15 minutes or so without apparent objection from the candidates.
As she continued to record, Tisdale said, two people approached her separately and, without identifying themselves, asked her to stop. She told them she had permission. Neither, she said, informed her they were asking on behalf of the property owner.
The second person, Tisdale said, told her there was a policy against video-recording but didn’t say whose.
“I responded, ‘Show me the policy,’ and at that point, he left.”
A couple minutes later, Tisdale said, a third unidentified man approached. He turned out to be Dawson County Sheriff’s Capt. Tony Wooten.
“Someone said the property owner does not want you to record,” Tisdale testified. Before she could respond, she said, someone placed his palm over her camera’s lens “and a voice said, ‘All right, you’re leaving’ in a very aggressive, hostile voice.”
Wooten then “lifted me up out of my chair and pushed and pulled me and he forces me out of the rally,” she said. “I had no clue who this person was.”
Tisdale’s camera was still recording, she said, as Wooten twisted her arm behind her back and “frog-marched” her out of the rally. On the recording, which was played in court, she can be heard shouting, “What is your name, sir? Identify yourself! What is your name? What is your name? Let go of me!”
Tisdale said she didn’t fight Wooten and didn’t elbow or kick him.
Wooten didn’t identify himself as law enforcement, she said, until he’d escorted her to an adjacent building and told her, “Now you’re going to jail.” About 45 seconds had elapsed since Wooten approached her, according to the time-stamp on the video footage.