Former officer fired for flying Confederate flag sues city

ATLANTA (AP) — A former police officer fired for flying the Confederate flag at her suburban Atlanta home has filed a federal lawsuit saying her termination violates her constitutional right to free speech.

Silvia Cotriss had worked for the Roswell Police Department for about 20 years and was a sergeant when she was fired in July. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday against the city of Roswell, the police chief and the city administrator.

The city attorney's office declined to comment Friday.

"This sort of high handed politically correct firing by the City of Roswell sets a horrible precedent and endangers the employment and constitutional rights of government employers across the State of Georgia," David Ates, an attorney for Cotriss, said in an emailed statement.

Someone sent an email to the police chief on July 11 complaining that there was a Confederate flag flying in front of a home in neighboring Woodstock and that he believed a Roswell police officer lived there because he'd seen a Roswell police vehicle parked in the driveway, the lawsuit says. The man told the chief he felt that due to current race, police and human relations issues, an officer shouldn't be allowed to display that flag.

Cotriss acknowledges flying a Confederate flag below an American flag on a flagpole in the front yard of the home she owns.

Previously she had flown a flag that had a motorcycle in the center and a smaller version of the Confederate flag since April 2015. Several weeks before her firing, she gave her housemate permission to take down that flag and to put up a Confederate flag a neighbor had given him.

She believed the flag was a way to honor her husband, who had died in May, as well as her southern heritage, the lawsuit says.

She had not had a Roswell police vehicle in her driveway since May when the vehicle she had was taken in to have the radio replaced and wasn't returned to her, the lawsuit says.

No one at the department ever asked her to remove the flag, and no one explained to her the concerns raised in the email to the chief, the lawsuit says. She was placed on paid administrative leave the day after the complaint came in and was fired on July 14.

The reasons given for her firing were violation of policies that apply whether an officer is on or off duty and that require an officer to act in a way that inspires confidence and respect from the public and fellow officers and that prohibit any conduct that reflects unfavorably on the city as an employer.

The lawsuit contends that Cotriss was wrongfully terminated in violation of her First Amendment right to free speech because displaying the Confederate flag at her private home was constitutionally protected speech that was "a substantial motivating factor" in her termination. That speech had no relation to her job, the lawsuit says.

Cotriss has suffered lost pay and benefits and has suffered severe emotional distress and pain and suffering, the lawsuit says. She is seeking actual and punitive damages.

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