PORTLAND — Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce apologized Wednesday for the improper release of photographs showing two women arrested at a July protest in Portland.

The two women had been wearing hijabs when arrested, but the booking photos released to news media showed them with the head scarves removed. A hijab covers the head and chest and is traditionally worn by Muslim women in the presence of adult males outside their immediate family.

The sheriff’s office launched an internal investigation after allegations that some protesters were intimidated into removing their hijabs when they were booked at the Cumberland County Jail.

In a news release, Joyce said jail officers followed correct booking procedure, but released the wrong photos of the two women to the public.

“I offer my sincerest apologies to any of the individuals who were at all embarrassed that evening and to the Muslim community for the appearance that we are disrespecting their religious beliefs and practices,” Joyce said.

Cumberland County Jail policy has inmates remove hijabs in a private area where a female officer checks for weapons and contraband. Two photographs are taken, one of the inmate wearing a hijab and another without.

Police photographs of the 17 adults arrested at the July 15 protest show two women wearing hijabs, although four women were wearing hijabs when the arrests were made.

The demonstration was organized by members of the Portland Racial Justice Congress and drew about 150 people upset by police shootings of black men this year in several locations around the country. Demonstrators blocked a busy intersection on Commercial Street for hours before police made the arrests.

At a Portland City Council meeting in August, Matthew Raymond, who said he was at the July protest, accused police of using excessive force and said women were forced to remove their hijabs at the jail.

Raymond declined to comment in an email Wednesday. The two women whose photos were released could not be reached for comment.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said he was glad Joyce looked into the incident and apologized for the misstep.

“The fact that he is taking responsibility shows true character, and I hope procedures will be put in place to make sure this will not happen again,” Strimling said.

In an interview Wednesday, Joyce said the jail’s policies are sound but the department must make sure officers understand them. There was no malice intended in releasing the booking photos, he said. But officers need to know it is acceptable to slow down the booking process and make sure they are following policy, he said.

The sheriff’s office also will change the way it processes photos through the jail computer so incorrect versions are not released, he said.

With national tensions about race and policing running high and allegations of jail officer misconduct coming from “second- and third-hand” accounts, Joyce said the department took the internal inquiry seriously.

“With everything going on nationally, I think it is important the public understand we are transparent, we make mistakes on occasion, we are not going to cover them up and we are going to do our best and learn from them,” he said.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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