ROSWELL, Ga. — A former police sergeant, fired for flying a Confederate flag outside her Georgia home, is suing the police department.
And she’s doing it with the help of a group with alleged ties to white supremacy.
Silvia Cotriss, a nearly 20-year veteran of the Roswell Police Department, was terminated over what the department called conduct unbecoming an officer: a confederate flag, raised above her front porch in the neighboring town of Woodstock.
But Cotriss’ attorney, David Ates, says her dismissal was in direct violation of her constitutional right to free speech as a private citizen.
“She was displaying her pride in her Southern heritage and honoring her recently deceased husband,” the lawsuit said. “The Confederate flag [is a] generally accepted symbol of Georgia heritage.”
Along with her attorney, Cotriss is also represented by the Southern Legal Resource Center, a North Carolina nonprofit whose Facebook page touts “Confederate Southern Americans” as “America’s most persecuted minority.”
The group was co-founded by Kirk Lyons, a man the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a “white supremacist lawyer.”
The SLC, which tracks hate groups, says on its website that Lyons serves what “has effectively become the legal arm of the neo-Confederate movement.”
Lyons denied any association with hate groups, and told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his job is to ensure Cotriss “gets a fair shake after being unfairly terminated.”
Cotriss is suing the city of Roswell and the Roswell chief of police for either reinstatement of her former position or 10 years of pay, as well as other compensatory damages.
Her dismissal, in July, came at a time of heightened racial tensions between police and black communities across the country.
The case also hit a nerve a year after a shooting that left nine dead at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The convicted gunman, Dylann Roof, had “posed for photos with the US flag burning in one hand and the Confederate flag in the other,” according to Assistant US Attorney Jay Richardson.