ROSWELL, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia police officer fired for flying the Confederate battle flag at her suburban Atlanta home says she had no idea the emblem was controversial, and is appealing her termination.
Former Roswell police Sgt. Silvia Cotriss has been flying the battle flag below the American flag in front of her house in the nearby town of Woodstock for more than a year with no complaints, she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (http://bit.ly/2awz0Xg ).
“If I knew it offended someone, my friends, my family, I wouldn’t do it,” Cotriss, a 20-year veteran officer of the Roswell department, told the newspaper in an interview.
“Police officers have to adjust a lot of things in our lives, and for 20 years my whole life has been about making change and being held to a higher standard,” she added. “We take an oath to help and protect people, so we can’t have a private life that’s really bad.”
On July 11, a man living nearby saw the flag in Cotriss’ yard as he drove his daughter and son to pre-school. He complained to Roswell’s police chief, which ultimately led to her firing, the Atlanta newspaper reported.
The man said Cotriss’ police vehicle was in the driveway, but Cotriss denies that, the newspaper reported.
Her firing comes after efforts across the nation last year to remove various Confederate battle flags, statues and other symbols of the Civil War from government property in response to complaints. Those efforts included South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s call to remove the Confederate battle flag in front of the state capitol, which fueled fierce protests from opponents and supporters of the flag.
The firing of Cotriss also comes amid current tensions between police agencies and residents in several U.S. cities following high-profile shootings in which officers killed or wounded black men.
Cotriss said she and her husband, who died recently, had gotten a Confederate battle flag in May 2015 during a vacation to Panama City, Florida, for the popular biker festival “Thunder Beach.” The battle flag had a motorcycle in the center, and Cotriss flew it beneath the American flag on a towering pole in her front yard, the newspaper reports. A neighbor later offered a new battle flag, without the motorcycle, when the earlier one became worn.
Cotriss said she removed the flag this month when investigators informed her of the complaint.
In an interview with detectives, Cotriss was asked, “Why she would have or allow the Confederate flag to be flown, especially in today’s environment?” the investigative report states.
“Cotriss explained that the flag was part of her history, part of the South, part of history involving the Civil War. She denied having negative feelings regarding the flag,” the report states.
When the detectives told her the flag had been a symbol used by Dylann Roof, who killed nine black church worshippers in Charleston, South Carolina, Cotriss said she was “not aware of its relation to the shooting.”
In an interview with the Journal-Constitution, Cotriss said she had no idea that the flag was offensive to some people, despite the fact that the debate swirling around the flag has been in the news for more than a year.
“Cops don’t watch the news because we live it in the day and don’t want to see it again at night,” Cotriss told the newspaper.
But she said she did not want the flag to cause people to mistrust her as an officer.
In its termination of Cotriss, Roswell police Capt. Helen Dunkin wrote that she had “engaged in conduct that was unbecoming, which brought discredit to the Roswell Police Department when she flew” the flag in her yard.
In recent months, Roswell Police Chief Rusty Grant has been visiting several churches in the Roswell area to build bridges with residents, the Atlanta newspaper reports.
Shortly after five police officers were shot to death in an ambush in Dallas, Texas, Grant was invited to attend Eagles Nest Church in Roswell, a predominantly black congregation, where he spoke to worshippers that Sunday, the newspaper reported. The man who lodged the complaint against Cotriss referenced the church service in his email to Grant, the newspaper reported.
Grant declined to comment to the newspaper.
In response to a request for comment from The Associated Press, Grant replied in an email Wednesday that Roswell’s city policy is not to comment on personnel issues.
Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, http://www.ajc.com