‘Stop! You’re hurting me!’ — Trial of citizen journalist gets underway

“Stop! You’re hurting me!” Tisdale yelled at Dawson County Sheriff’s Capt. Tony Wooten.

The raw sounds and images came from a video Tisdale shot herself as she was pressed up against a counter at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm, the site of a 2014 rally for Georgia’s slate of Republican candidates. Jurors leaned forward, watching the scene for the first time.

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“You’re going to jail. You’ve resisted me in my lawful duties trying to get you to cooperate,” Wooten said. “You fought with me. You’ve wrestled with me, so we’re just going to wait and we’re going to go to jail.”

Wooten arrested Tisdale, who for years has posted her videos of public meetings and political rallies to her website, charging her with felony obstruction of a police officer and two misdemeanors. After more than three years, she faces those charges in court and the potential of years in prison if convicted.

The politically charged case has ensnared some of the biggest Republicans in Georgia and will test the limits of citizen journalism in the state.

On Wednesday, Senior Judge Martha Christian refused to quash a subpoena of Gov. Nathan Deal, ordering attorneys to schedule a time when the governor could testify.

Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Late Wednesday, Wooten told jurors he tried to get Tisdale to stop filming, but she ignored him.

A 16-year-veteran of the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office at the time of the encounter, Wooten said he didn’t know Tisdale or her intentions, suggesting that she might have been armed.

“My training was to get her away from the other individuals,” he said.

But in a contentious cross-examination, Tisdale’s lead attorney, Bruce Harvey, described Wooten pinning his client to a counter. Wooten said his only other option would have been to put her on a concrete floor.

Harvey countered, “Your only other option would have been not to arrest her at all, right?”

Wooten said he told Tisdale he was with the sheriffs’ office, something her attorney disputes. When she was grabbed by a sheriff’s deputy, who did not identify himself, Tisdale had no idea what was happening, Harvey said.

Jurors also heard from farm owner Johnny Burt and Clint Bearden, a politically connected lawyer who organized the rally. Both objected to Tisdale’s recording at the event.

“She was filming and she was sitting right in the front, right in the speaker’s face,” Burt said. “It was getting intimidating to the speakers.”

In cross-examination, Harvey hammered on the public nature of the rally, which had been advertised as free and open to the public on Facebook and in local newspapers. There were no prohibitions posted against filming and Tisdale was not hiding her camera, he said. 

“Nobody said, ‘If there is anybody taping, stop it,’” Harvey said. 

Burt testified that he suggested Tisdale be released rather than arrested, but he made little secret of how he felt about her.

“I said, ‘Should we not just put her in her car and send her back to Fulton County where she belongs,’” he said.

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