Citizen Journalist Thrown Out of City Council Receives $200,000 Settlement

Scales of Justice

Forsyth County, GA (TFC)

In a victory that should be celebrated by journalists and activists alike, Citizen Journalist Nydia Tisdale announced a settlement with the Mayor and the Chief of Police in Cumming, GA from her Federal lawsuit that was getting ready to go to trial in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Tisdale had filed a    complaint after she was was banned from filming Cumming City Council meeting on April 17, 2012.

As pointed out on Nydia’s website the following took place:

“On April 17, 2012, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law an updated version of Georgia’s Sunshine Laws to take effect immediately upon signature. Video recording of open-and-public meetings was allowed in the old law and in the new law.

Hours later the same day, Tisdale attempted to video record the Cumming City Council meeting where discussion of an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between Forsyth County and the City of Cumming for raw and finished water was taking place. The city holds the permit to withdraw water from Lake Lanier and the county purchases water from the city. The 30-year contract was about to expire.

Tisdale had previously filmed Mayor H. Ford Gravitt and the Cumming City Council across the street at the Forsyth County Administration Building at open-and-public meetings. But, the very first time she set foot inside Cumming City Hall, she was tossed out for carrying her camera into council chambers. 

Tisdale situated her tripod, mounted her video camera atop and began filming moments before the meeting. The Mayor called the meeting to order and then said, “First of all, a little house cleaning. Uh, Chief Tatum, if you would, remove the camera from — from the auditorium. We don’t allow filming inside of the city hall here unless it’s specific reasons, so if you would remove the camera.”   

“Respectfully, Mayor … I am exercising my right as a citizen to record this meeting,” Tisdale asserted her right to film.

Mayor Gravitt told Tisdale, “It’s not for discussion,” and again ordered Police Chief Casey Tatum to remove the camera.

Two armed police officers — Chief Tatum and Deputy Chief Walter “Clyde” Cook — grabbed both of her arms and her tripod with her Sony camcorder attached. “Sir! This is an open and public meeting! I have a right by Georgia law to film this meeting!” protested Tisdale.”

Nydia then decided to make the authorities answer for their actions by filing a Title 42 U.S.C. 1983 Complaint asserting that the defendants violated her Constitutional Protections under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  On September 30, 2014. in a 41-page decision Judge Story denied Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment in part and allowed the case to move forward to the trial calendar.

The  Daily Report quotes Nydia’s Attorney as stating, “fought the litigation vigorously, which led to a significant monetary resolution.”  Depositions were taken and Nydia posted the videotaped testimony on her YouTube channel.  Mediation failed and the trial loomed as Nydia stood her ground.  As a result, she was awarded the $200,000.00 settlement.

Nydia’s attorney, Gerry Weber, speaking to the Daily Report, called the settlement

a tremendous victory for the right of citizens to be a government watchdog. Nydia plays an increasingly non-rare role as a citizen journalist. She has done such tremendous work. This is really not only recognition of her First Amendment rights but also a testament to the importance of her work.”

The case, he said, is also “part of a growing body of case law around citizens’ rights to film both police conduct and government meetings.”

I want to applaud Nydia Tisdale and also thank her for standing up for the unconstitutional actions of government officials, holding them accountable while demanding transparency of a government entity.

The case is called Tisdale v Gravitt Et Al  Civil Action NO. 2:12-CV-00145-RWS U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.