Would-be videographer sues over open meetings law
6:22 pm, June 13th, 2012
A Georgia woman who was stopped from video recording a Cumming City Council meeting in April filed a civil rights suit in federal court on Wednesday against the city, its mayor and police officials.
Nydia Tisdale’s suit claims Cumming Mayor Ford Gravitt ordered Police Chief Casey Tatum to remove her camera from the meeting and ignored her assertion of her rights. It further states the chief and deputy chief Walter “Clyde” Cook forcibly removed her from the meeting, after which she was allowed to return but was again ordered to cease recording.
The suit claims violations of the state’s Open Meetings Act, which expressly permits audio and video recording by the public of government meetings, and charges city officials with false imprisonment, battery and harassment in violation of her First, Fourth and 14th Amendment Rights. Tisdale is seeking damages as well as injunctive relief.
“The actions of defendants caused Tisdale physical pain, emotional distress and humiliation as she was physically removed from a public meeting for exercising her constitutional and statutory rights to file a public meeting,” the complaint states. “She is filing this lawsuit so that she can obtain court orders allowing her to film upcoming meetings in the next month.”
Tisdale’s attorney Gerald Weber said it is not common for members of the public who feel their access to government has been illegally restricted to file suit in federal court.
“This one is different because the [U.S. Court of Appeals for the] Eleventh Circuit has said citizens have the right to video tape government meetings,” Weber said.
Earlier this month, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens filed a civil suit regarding the same incident, seeking maximum fines against the city. It was the attorney general’s first civil suit under the state’s new sunshine laws that he helped usher through the Legislature. The new Open Meetings Law allows for courts to fine open government violators up to $1,000 for the first violation and $2,500 for any subsequent violation within a year’s time.
The city’s general counsel, Dana Miles with Miles Patterson Hansford Tallant, said the firm’s policy is not to comment on active litigation. The city has not yet filed a response to Olens’ suit but has until early July.
Tisdale’s suit also asks the court to impose the same penalties under the state law, which means the city could be dinged twice.
“Generally, it’s difficult for federal court to impose injunctions under state law, but this is asking for penalties,” Weber said.