By AIMEE SACHS
(CN) – A former Roswell, Georgia police officer claims in court that her civil and First Amendment rights were violated when she was fired for displaying a Confederate flag outside of her home.
In a lawsuit filed in the federal court in Atlanta on Wednesday, plaintiff Silvia Cotriss says she was employed by the Roswell Police Department for 20 years, and before her firing, she was a sergeant in its uniform patrol division.
Cotriss says that on July 16, Roswell Police Chief James Russell Grant, a defendant in the lawsuit, received an email complaint about a Confederate flag that was being displayed on a flagpole outside a private residence.
The person lodging the complaint also reportedly said they also believed the residence belonged to a Roswell police officer because a department police car was seen parked in the driveway.
“The complainant alleged that he felt due to the current race, police, and human relations issues, the officer should not be allowed to display such a flag despite her individual right to free speech,” the lawsuit states.
The Confederate flag found its way back into national discussion following the 2015 slaying of nine black people at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Dylann Roof was convicted of carrying out those murders Thursday afternoon.
In the weeks before the murders, Roof often photographed himself with the flag. In the aftermath of the shootings the Confederate flag was removed from the grounds of South Carolina’s statehouse.
The Confederate flag has also been a hot-button issue in the metro Atlanta area. Last year, a Confederate flag was stolen from Stone Mountain.
Cotriss says she doesn’t believe the police chief is being truthful about the details of the complaint because at the time it was made, she hadn’t had a police car at her home in months.
Cotriss says she was on medical leave in May when a fellow officers retrieved her car because all of the department’s radios were being replaced. According to her complaint, it was never returned.
Cotriss says the flag had been on display in her front yard for three or four weeks before the complaint was received. She says the department conducted an investigation “based on allegations of conduct unbecoming a police officer,” and that she was interviewed the day after the complaint was made.
Cotriss said that she was displaying the Confederate flag “to honor her Southern heritage.”
“At the conclusion of the RPD investigation, the alleged violation was sustained,” the complaint says. “Plaintiff was never asked to remove the Confederate flag nor did anyone explain to her the concerns raised in the July 11, 2016 email.”
Cotriss was initially placed on administrative leave with pay after the investigation, but was fired two days later under the department’s conduct policy.
“Plaintiff was wrongfully terminated by Defendants in violation of her First Amendment right to free speech,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff’s display of the Confederate flag at her private residence was constitutionally protected speech and that speech was a substantial or motivating factor in the RPD’s decision to terminate her.”
The lawsuit points out that Georgia’s state flags have historically displayed variations of the Confederate flag, including the current flag.
Cotriss is seeking either to be reinstated to her former position, or to be awarded 10 years of front pay as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
She is represented by David Ates of Atlanta.
A representative of the police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.