The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office has opened an internal investigation to determine whether booking photos of two Muslim women arrested at a protest in Portland on July 15 were improperly released to the press, showing them without hijabs.

Sheriff Kevin Joyce announced the investigation Tuesday, a day after Matthew Raymond, a 21-year-old Portland man, told the Portland City Council that the four women who were arrested wearing hijabs were intimidated into removing the religious head coverings when they were booked into the Cumberland County Jail.

“(The four women) were promised that (jail officials) would not release photos of individuals that did not have hijabs on,” Raymond said in a phone interview Tuesday. “In our opinion, it was a form of public shaming and it’s a violation of their First Amendment religious rights.”

Raymond said he was at the protest organized by the Portland Racial Justice Congress but is not a member of the group. He said he was not arrested, did not witness the booking process, and was relying on accounts from several people who were at the jail, whom he declined to name. The jail released 17 booking photos of those arrested showing two women wearing hijabs, the traditional head scarves worn by some Muslim women for modesty.

The announcement of the investigation came a few hours after Joyce said that anyone who had complaints about the booking process should have come to his office to discuss it.

At first, Joyce said he believed the jail staff followed proper procedure when booking the women into the jail.

The women wearing hijabs were escorted to a private area by a female corrections officer so they could be pat-searched and then photographed both with and without the hijabs.

The scarves are then supposed to be returned to the women and the booking process is to be completed. Any booking photos released should show the women wearing the hijabs, Joyce said.

“The officers did exactly what our policy says,” Joyce said Tuesday morning.

Asked why the photos showed only two women wearing hijabs when four women were alleged to have been wearing hijabs when they were arrested, Joyce said that he hoped the investigation would determine exactly what happened.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling issued a statement Tuesday afternoon thanking Joyce for opening the investigation and saying he believes the jail’s policy – of not publicly releasing photos of Muslim women who wear a hijab without the hijab – is the right one.

“Showing respect for our community and ensuring that law enforcement can perform their duties must not be mutually exclusive,” Strimling said in the statement. “Sheriff Joyce’s swift decision to get to the bottom of this issue shows that he understands its gravity and the effect it can have on not only those involved, but also on the immigrant community as a whole.”

Joyce said he had the ranking corrections officer on duty that evening file a report detailing the booking process.

“I had the captain write down what went on,” the sheriff said.

Joyce said he decided to open the investigation after a conversation with Strimling, and said he hopes that everyone who was present that night agrees to be interviewed.

The 18 people arrested are not required to speak with sheriff’s office investigators, but the jail staff will be, Joyce said. He would not release the captain’s report on the booking process, saying it is exempt from public records law because it is considered part of the investigation.

“I’ve got a written report of the captain. I’ve got two females who were doing the booking. I’d like to know what was said there. I’d like to know who the people complaining are,” Joyce said. “I’m just shocked that the people are complaining to the City Council (and) didn’t bring it down here. My past (practice) has been to jump on things and try to fix it. If there was a problem, I want to address it. If there wasn’t, I don’t want people running around saying their rights were violated.”

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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