NORTH FULTON COUNTY, Ga. —
A Roswell pastor said a police officer was fired on Thursday after the Roswell Police chief received a complaint that a Confederate flag was flying outside the officer’s house where an official police vehicle was parked in the driveway.
Roswell Police Chief Rusty Grant told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Saturday that he could not comment on any specifics of the case, including the very nature of the case. He would only confirm that a Roswell officer had been fired on Thursday.
“On the past Monday, July 11, we received a complaint about an unidentified Roswell Police officer,” Grant said. “Based on the complaint, the Office of Professional Standards (internal affairs) did the investigation. After it was complete, I reviewed it and it was sustained by me and based on that, the police officer was terminated this past Thursday.”
Here’s what led to the complaint. Last Sunday, in the wake of police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the massacre of five Dallas police officers, Pastor Lee Jenkins of Eagle’s Nest Church in Roswell, invited Grant and his department to worship with them. Grant, who has made it a point to visit predominantly African American churches since the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., accepted the invitation, he said.
“For me the takeaway from Ferguson was that a lot of African Americans don’t trust police officers and don’t see them as I did when I was growing up,” Grant said. “I honestly didn’t know that before. I was ignorant of that. Everyone needs to work to make things better.”
Jenkins said his sermon focused not only on the affronts he and other black men in his congregation have faced after being stopped by police, but on how police and the community could work together to change the relationship. Afterward, Grant spoke to the church and promised they would find a way to work together.
“Our people gave him a standing ovation, then he shook everybody’s hand,” Jenkins said. “He was in his uniform and with his gun. He was as friendly as they come.”
But a day later, a parishioner who’d been at the service was driving through a Roswell neighborhood early in the morning and spotted an official Roswell Police vehicle outside a house. Flying on the property was a Confederate flag. The flag has become an especially volatile symbol in the last year, with some people saying it represents Southern heritage and others saying it represents hate.
Jenkins said the parishioner contacted him about what he’d seen and Jenkins said he called the chief.
“People have a First Amendment right to fly a flag on their own property, but when you have a government-issued vehicle out front, that’s highly offensive and inappropriate,” Jenkins said.
When pressed, Grant would not comment on any specifics of the case including whether or not the firing was the result of flying the flag. He would only say that an officer had been let go.
Jenkins said the chief told him the person had been fired, a move Jenkins applauded. By Saturday afternoon, word had spread through the church about the incident and the alleged firing.
“I commend Chief Grant of being a man of integrity and a man of his word,” said Fernandez Anderson of Lawrenceville. “He made his stand to say we must be better, we must do better. The chief had an open mind and didn’t just look at it from a police angle, he looked at it from a neutral angle.”
The AJC could not immediately confirm the officer’s identity or contact the officer.