Jail officials in Cumberland County, Maine, have a special protocol for taking booking photos of Muslim women who wear hijabs. They’re photographed twice — once while wearing a hijab, and once without.
The scarfless photos are never supposed to be seen beyond the walls of the jail.
But the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office has launched an investigation to see if the religious rights of two Muslim women were violated after mugshots showing them without their hijabs were released to the media.
A protester told the Portland City Council that the release of the photos was an effort to publicly embarrass the women, who were taken into custody during a group arrest last month at a Black Lives Matter event in Portland.
The women in question have not said anything publicly or complained to the sheriff’s office, Cumberland County Chief Deputy Naldo Gagnon told The Washington Post. Investigators have made contact with community members who know some of the protesters, but have not determined if the women felt their rights were violated.
Four women wearing hijabs were arrested, and “were promised that [jail officials] would not release photos of individuals that did not have hijabs on,” protester Matthew Raymond told the Portland Press Herald. “In our opinion, it was a form of public shaming and it’s a violation of their First Amendment religious rights.”
The July 15 protest, organized by the Portland Racial Justice Congress, drew 150 demonstrators, according to the Press Herald. The group was protesting the fatal shootings of black men by police in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, La.
At one point, 18 protesters linked hands and stood in a circle to block a busy street. Police arrested 17 adults and one juvenile and brought them all to the Cumberland County Jail, according to Gagnon.
The jail is the state’s largest, but processing 18 arrests at once created a bottleneck and a rowdy scene, Gagnon said. Adding to the chaos: Some of the protesters were agitated and yelled at the law enforcement officers trying to process them, the chief deputy said.
The arrests made headlines in Portland, and TV stations and newspapers asked for the mugshots of the arrestees. Police sent out pictures of the 17 adults — and that’s where the conflict started.
In the composite photo displayed on the Press Herald’s website, two women are wearing hijabs; but Raymond told council members that two more Muslim women were shown without their headscarves, even though they customarily wear them all the time. He didn’t identify the women.
“To be shown without a headscarf, it’s almost like being shown naked,” Ibrahim Hooper, a national spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told The Washington Post. “The implication is that it’s an act of intimidation to humiliate Muslim women who are exercising their right to protest. We hope that’s not the case and we’ll have to see what the results of the investigation are.”
Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce told The Post that with the two protesters seen wearing hijabs in the composite photo, he is certain his staff followed policies to the letter. Female corrections officers are the only jail employees who saw them without headscarves. And their public mugshots show them appropriately covered, he said.
The Press-Herald photo caption identifies those two women as Salma Hassan and Nassen Sheikyousef.
In the composite from the Press Herald, another woman, Shadiyo Hussain-Ali, is shown without a hijab. But in a photo sent to The Post by the sheriff’s office, she’s wearing a purple headscarf.
Sheriff’s officials don’t know if Hussain-Ali is one of the women whose rights Raymond claimed were violated. Investigators are also uncertain of whether a fourth woman’s religious rights were violated, Gagnon said.
Joyce said his office still hasn’t received any complaints about the release of the composite photo.
But after hearing the rumor the several times, he ordered an investigation and wants someone from his office to question every protester who was arrested that night.
“Until I investigate it, I don’t know if these are two people who are just trying to cause trouble or if it’s a legitimate complaint,” Joyce told The Post. “Most people, if it was an issue, would have been knocking on my door the next day. But once we heard the third complaint, indirectly, I was like, if there’s smoke out there, I want to see if there’s fire.”
He defended his employees’ actions though, saying if there was a mix-up, it wasn’t purposeful or retaliatory.
His staff was handling an unusually high number of arrests, he said, a total of 35 people at once.
“We’re a busy jail, but 35 is a lot for a group of people to process,” he said. “But it’s a jail. I tell my staff, if you’ve got 35 or three, there’s no bonus for getting through them fast. There’s no need to rush. It’s not like anyone is going anywhere.”