DAWSON COUNTY, Ga. - A citizen journalist convicted of obstructing a deputy forcibly removing her from recording a political rally was sentenced Monday to a year of probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and do 40 hours of community service.
Nydia Tisdale captured the August 2014 incident on her camera while filming a slate of Republican candidates on the stump at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm in Dawsonville.
Tisdale testified at trial she believed it was a public event and that candidates had no issues with her recording, but the farm’s owner testified he wanted her removed because candidates said her camera was “intimidating“ speakers.
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Two weeks ago, jurors acquitted Tisdale of felony obstruction and criminal trespass.
In his sentencing argument, Assistant District Attorney Conley Greer told Judge Martha Christian this case was not about the First Amendment.
“This was on a private piece of property in Dawson County,” he said. “What right does anyone have to break a law in the name of another law?”
Greer requested the sentence ultimately imposed, also asking the judge to require Tisdale to write a letter of apology to Deputy Tony Wooten, but Judge Christian declined to require it, saying law enforcement officers don’t get apologies for doing what happens to them on the job.
“They get spat upon. They get attacked. They get shot. They get threatened and that there is part of their job,” Christian said. “Without law enforcement officers our First Amendment, our property rights and any of our rights would mean nothing.”
Tisdale told Channel 2’s Mike Petchenik she was disappointed by the judge’s sentence.
“It’s really taken a toll on me because I feel like my life is under arrest,” she said. “I think the fact that I was even arrested is an egregious overreach.”
Tisdale and her defense attorney, Bruce Harvey, said they plan to appeal the conviction and sentence.
“She had a choice not to take this to a jury, but she made what I think a very courageous choice in saying I want my day in court,” Harvey said. “I hope it doesn’t chill journalists like yourself. It certainly hasn’t deterred Nydia."
Richard Griffiths, a former CNN executive and current president-elect of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, told Petchenik he was glad the judge granted Tisdale so-called “first offender” status, which means she won’t have a record if she successfully carries out her sentence. But, Griffiths said he was concerned about the message this case sends to journalists.
“If you’re going to record a public event on private land you have to be very careful,” he said. “None of this would be necessary today if a public event had just simply allowed her to do her job.”
Jonathan Peters, a media law professor at the University of Georgia, told Petchenik this case will have a chilling effect.
Peters told Petchenik in 2017, 32 journalists were arrested while doing their jobs and 36 were physically attacked, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a non-profit that documents incidents involving journalists.
“The message is: ‘gather the news at your peril,’” he said. “The freedom to do that is the lifeblood of any healthy democracy and Tisdale was arrested in that context.”
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