North Fulton County

Embattled group helps fired cop sue Roswell over Confederate flag

Roswell Police Sgt. Silvia Cotriss. Cotriss was fired on July 14, 2016 for flying a Confederate flag in her front yard. (FILE: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

ROSWELL, Ga. — A Roswell police sergeant who was fired from her job for flying the Confederate battle flag at her home has filed a freedom of speech lawsuit against the city. Her case is being assisted by an organization that has been associated with hate groups, though she and the lead attorney said they were unaware of any such ties.

Silvia Cotriss, a nearly 20-year veteran of the Roswell Police Department, was terminated for “unbecoming” conduct in July after a complaint about the flag was made.

The Woodstock resident — who has said she did not know some consider the flag offensive — is being represented by attorney David Ates and the North Carolina-based Southern Legal Resource Center, according to a press release from the nonprofit.

The SLRC, which regards "Confederate Southern Americans" as "America's most persecuted minority," was co-founded by Kirk Lyons.

The Southern Poverty Law Center considers Lyons a "white supremacist lawyer" who serves what "has effectively become the legal arm of the neo-Confederate movement," according to its website.

In 2001, The New York Times reported Lyons had a "well-documented history" of working with hate groups such as the Aryan Nations, the White Patriot Party and the Ku Klux Klan.

Lyons said he “absolutely denies any association” with hate groups.

His job is to make sure Cotriss “gets a fair shake after being unfairly terminated,” Lyons said.

Cotriss and Ates were not aware of the alleged ties, they told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution when reached Friday.

Cotriss is suing Roswell and city officials for reinstatement of her position — or alternatively, 10 years of pay and cost of benefits — and other damages.

The lawsuit, which also names Police Chief Rusty Grant and City Administrator Katherine Love, said the flag was “a way to honor (Cotriss’) Southern heritage and her late husband.”

“A Confederate flag can communicate an array of messages, among them various political and historic points of view,” the lawsuit said.

The July complaint that triggered her termination indicated the flag was hanging in a yard with a police vehicle in the driveway.

Cotriss, who was on medical leave, argues that the car was not in the driveway when the complaint was made because it had been picked up by the department in May to replace the radio.

Roswell officials declined to comment on pending litigation.