Sheriff Kevin Joyce publicly apologized Thursday to any female visitors at the Cumberland County Jail in Portland who have been told to remove their underwire bras before being allowed to enter the facility.

Joyce spoke during his second news conference in less than a week since two female attorneys complained that jail officers were confronting women whose bras triggered a metal detector at the jail’s entrance.

Joyce apologized to the two attorneys by name, Amy Fairfield and Gina Yamartino, who refused to remove their bras when asked to do so and who brought the issue to light.

He also apologized to other women who may have been told to remove their undergarments before being admitted to see inmates face-to-face for a professional reason – such as a mental health worker – or as visitors coming to see loved ones in custody.

Joyce said no women, professionals or family members, will be asked to remove their bras before being admitted to the jail and said he discovered this week that officers began the practice after misinterpreting a policy regarding the jail’s metal detector.

“In all honesty, when I signed this policy, the issue of underwire bras never crossed my mind,” Joyce said.

Joyce went a step further at Thursday’s news conference than he had at a news conference Monday, when he declined to apologize. At Monday’s gathering, he said he needed to investigate what happened first before he would apologize.

“It was never my intention nor that of the officers involved to offend any of our visitors or embarrass them in any way. At this time, as well, I would like to publicly apologize to attorneys Fairfield and Yamartino and any other unknown visitors or professionals who had been confronted with this situation, having offended them or having caused any embarrassment,” Joyce said. “While our goal has always been to keep our jail safe and secure as possible, I want to do so in a manner that fairly balances those considerations with those of the general public and in particular those of our professional visitors.”

TAKES RESPONSIBILITY

Joyce said he personally took responsibility for his officers’ failings, and for not training them on how to carry out the metal detector policy. The policy says that visitors who trigger the metal detector, even after removing metal objects on their person, should be scanned with a handheld detector, often called a wand, he said.

Only professional visitors have direct contact with inmates. Other visitors are separated from inmates by a physical barrier, making it difficult for visitors to transfer contraband items, Joyce said.

Joyce said he does not know when officers at the jail entrance began asking women to remove their bras, but said the sensitivity of the metal detector had not been changed since he signed an updated detector policy about a year ago.

An internal investigator has so far discovered that at least two male officers had been telling women to remove their bras, Joyce said. Neither of the officers has been disciplined and Joyce said disciplinary action was unlikely, unless the investigation reveals violation of other policies.

Joyce said a member of his staff is reviewing surveillance video from the jail entrance to see if other staff members were confronting women.

‘A REAL PROBLEM’

Fairfield spoke by phone after the news conference, saying that she was pleased that Joyce apologized publicly, but remained convinced that the problem at the jail runs much deeper than two officers zealously interpreting a policy.

“I’m not looking for people to be disciplined, other than this problem is a lot more prolific than he thinks,” Fairfield said.

Fairfield said that when she was told to remove her bra during a visit on Sept. 10, she refused and demanded to speak with the officer’s supervisor. She said the officer made phone calls first to the jail administrator, Maj. John Costello, who was unavailable, and then to the next-in-command, who supported the officer’s demand that she remove her bra.

“There is a real problem that needs to be dealt with,” Fairfield said. “If they felt this was OK to do, what else is going on?”

Fairfield said she demanded at a meeting with Joyce on Wednesday afternoon that he conduct a thorough investigation, including an investigation of his command staff that allowed the practice in the first place.