Several female defense attorneys are upset with a new policy at the Cumberland County Jail that requires them to remove their underwire bras before they can meet with their clients.
The women were told the policy was instituted because the bras have been setting off the jail’s metal detector.
“It’s absolutely outrageous,” said attorney Amy Fairfield, who learned of the policy when she went to the jail Sept. 10.
Fairfield said Friday that she went to the jail last week to meet with a client and was turned away by a Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy when her bra set off the metal detector and she refused to remove it.
“He said, ‘Are you wearing an underwire bra? Might I suggest you go to the bathroom and take that off?’ ” Fairfield recalled. “I said, ‘I will not. I am completely offended at that notion.'”
Fairfield said she has been asked in the past to take off her bracelets, rings and hairclip at the jail, but had never been stopped at the metal detector because of her bra.
Fairfield said the deputy told her that the new policy had been imposed by the jail administrator, Maj. John Costello. She said she tried to contact Costello, but he hasn’t returned her phone message.
“They are just inviting a lawsuit,” Fairfield said. “It’s discriminatory, it’s harassing and it’s a constitutional issue.”
Fairfield said denying her access to meet with her client in jail violated her client’s constitutional rights.
Fairfield said she reported the policy this week to Justice Roland Cole, the chief judge of Maine’s Superior Court, and wrote a letter to Sheriff Kevin Joyce on Thursday.
Joyce said in a phone interview Friday that it isn’t jail policy to make women take off their bras, but he said the metal detector policy was made more stringent several months ago.
Joyce said he had not yet received Fairfield’s letter, but did get a message from another attorney and will review the policy.
“We have a policy that everyone is put through the metal detector. What I’m hearing from the major (Costello) is that at least three (attorneys) tried to come in and had metal somewhere,” Joyce said.
He said the more restrictive metal detector policy had not come up as an issue until this week.
“There is no way (for a metal detector) to differentiate people with underwire bras and someone bringing in a gun,” the sheriff said.
Marilyn Thaxter, a spokeswoman for CEIA-USA, the manufacturer of the detector used at the jail, said it’s not typical – but not unprecedented – for a small amount of metal to set off a detector.
Thaxter couldn’t determine Friday which of the company’s detectors is used at the Cumberland County Jail, but said almost all of its detectors can be adjusted for sensitivity. For security, a jail’s detector would be set at a very high sensitivity to detect most metals coming in, she said, but could distinguish between items such as a ring and a larger piece of metal, such as a gun or a knife.
A customer can consult with CEIA to change a detector’s sensitivity, if needed, Thaxter said.
It wasn’t clear Friday night whether other women visiting the jail had been asked to remove their underwire bras before being allowed in to see inmates.
Joyce said he was made aware of the issue in a phone message Friday from another female attorney, Gina Yamartino, who also was told she couldn’t be admitted with her underwire bra.
Costello previously worked at a jail in Middlesex County in Massachusetts, where an attorney did bring a gun into the jail, Joyce said.
“In this day and age, we’re trying to do the best we can to keep any drugs and contraband out,” he said.
Yamartino said in an interview Friday at the Cumberland County Courthouse that she has gone into the jail countless other times to meet with clients and had never been stopped because of her bra until Thursday.
“I’m apoplectic,” Yamartino said of how the incident upset her. “They said, ‘Go into the bathroom and take your bra off.’ I mean, are you kidding me?”
Yamartino said that when she was at the jail Thursday, she threatened to call the media if the deputy at the security entrance didn’t let her in, and the jail staff eventually let her speak with her client by phone in a secure enclosure where the two were separated by a clear wall.
“Costello called me (Friday) morning, and we had a conversation that was unbelievable. The things he was saying were unbelievable,” Yamartino said, offering “Don’t set off the metal detector” and “Wear a different bra” as examples.
He also told her to submit a letter with her complaints that he could review.
“He didn’t back down at all,” Yamartino said.
Costello could not be reached for comment Friday.
Yamartino called the jail’s policy “very sexist” and expected that male defense attorneys would stand in support of her and other female attorneys.
“My clients are suffering because they are not allowing me to see my clients because I wear an underwire bra. It’s ludicrous,” Yamartino said. “This is a policy that needs to be fixed, or legal actions will be taken.”
About two-thirds of all bras sold in the United States in the last year, through August, were underwire bras, said Bernadette Wallace, a spokeswoman for Hanes, which owns Playtex and other bra bands.
Wallace said the company has heard that some bras have set off metal detectors at airports, but she couldn’t offer specific cases.
Attorney Sarah Churchill heard what happened to Fairfield and Yamartino and tried to see if the same thing would happen to her during a jail appointment with a client on Friday morning.
“I put on an underwire bra today figuring I would check this out,” Churchill said Friday afternoon.
Churchill’s bra failed to set off the metal detector, and she was admitted into the jail.
Churchill said she wrote a post about the new policy for an online forum shared by members of Maine’s bar association.
“The TSA doesn’t ask me to take my bra off. The feds don’t ask me to take my bra off, but the Cumberland County Jail thinks it’s appropriate? You’ve got to be kidding me,” Churchill said.
Staff Writer Edward Murphy contributed to this story.