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story.lead_photo.caption A collection of booking photos taken from the Union County sheriff’s office website shows suspects wearing Nike T-shirts. The sheriff denies that the suspects were forced to wear the shirts in their booking photos.

El Dorado is gearing up for next week's 31st annual MusicFest, but an activist's social media post Wednesday night has drawn unwanted national exposure to Union County and its sheriff's office.

Shaun King, an activist and columnist, said in posts on Twitter and Facebook late Wednesday that the Union County sheriff's office was forcing suspects to wear Nike shirts in booking mug shots to mock the apparel company's recent advertising deal with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

King posted photos of 12 inmates wearing Nike shirts and said Sheriff Ricky Roberts was "putting Nike t-shirts on people they arrest and making them wear them during mug shots. Source says it is to mock Nike and Colin Kaepernick. Disgusting."

The post drew an immediate reaction, and by 9 p.m. -- less than an hour after King had made his post -- the sheriff's office had removed all inmate photos from its online roster.

Janice Bush, president of the Union County chapter of the NAACP, said in a social media post Thursday morning that the incident was "appalling and disgraceful" for El Dorado and Union County.

"We are about to celebrate MUSIC FEST and attract many people of all opinions and cultures to our community," Bush said in the post. "This is not us, our question is, who is the responsible party."

Roberts said in a news release Thursday that it had come to his attention that the shirts had "been deemed offensive by certain individuals" and that the agency would ensure "that this will never happen again."

The sheriff said the suspects in the photos chose to wear the Nike shirts. Roberts said the suspects lacked "proper attire" when they were booked into the jail, and the shirts were among the clothing provided from which they could choose for their mug shots.

"It is not our intent, nor has it ever been our intent, to demean or disparage those who are innocent until proven guilty," Roberts said in the release. "I require that my staff treat everyone with the utmost dignity and respect. In an attempt to provide those individuals with a sense of dignity, along with providing a photograph which is appropriate for public viewing, we provide these individuals with clothing to wear."

Roberts said the sheriff's office did not buy the shirts but they were "on hand and available."

"We are not, and will not be influenced by current political and social debates in the media," Roberts said in the release.

He closed the statement by saying he understood "the concern of those who may have found this offensive" and apologized.

One of the most recognized shoe and apparel companies in the world, Nike came under scrutiny in September when it began using Kaepernick in an ad campaign.

Kaepernick was thrust into the national spotlight in 2016 when he began kneeling while the national anthem played at NFL games to protest police brutality and social injustice. His protest set off a national debate about whether it was appropriate for athletes to protest by kneeling during the anthem.

Kaepernick became a free agent in 2017, but he was not picked up by another team. He eventually filed a grievance against NFL owners, accusing them of colluding to not hire him. He has not returned to the NFL.

Nike's campaign featuring the quarterback drew criticism from people who viewed Kaepernick's protest as disrespectful to the flag and to those who served in the military. Many declared they would boycott the company. It even led the mayor of a New Orleans suburb to issue an order that banned the city's recreation department from purchasing Nike products. A week later he rescinded the ban, saying the order had divided the city.

King told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Thursday that "two or three" people had contacted him and made him aware of the photos.

"At the same time an anonymous source who said they worked in some relationship with the jail told me it started in September," King said. "I started going through hundreds of photos and it appeared it started on Sept. 15, which is right in the thick of the [Nike] debacle."

King's post included photos of two Nike shirts: a large, black T-shirt with Nike Athletics in boldface font above the company's signature check mark and a black polo shirt with a small white swoosh in the upper right-hand corner.

The second shirt could be seen in mug shots that dated as far back as July, well before the Sept. 3 announcement of the ad campaign featuring Kaepernick. The Nike Athletics shirt began to show up in mug shots around Sept. 15 on the jail's roster.

King said a source told him the photos were Roberts' attempt to mock Kaepernick and Nike because he viewed them as anti-police. Multiple attempts by the Democrat-Gazette on Thursday to speak with Roberts about the mug shots were unsuccessful.

Nike didn't respond to a request for comment Thursday, and attempts to reach Kaepernick also were unsuccessful.

Informed by a Democrat-Gazette reporter of Roberts' explanation, King said the comments were "the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard."

"Listen, man," King said with laughter. "I didn't see that one coming. I knew he had to say something, but if that is what he is going with, then he was better off not saying anything at all."

King said he had never heard of inmates choosing their own shirts for their booking photos and said he found the statement unbelievable.

"It's kind of strange the inmates just all started picking Nike," King said. "Does this box only have Nike shirts? He is saying everybody just loved our new Nike addition we added? Come on, man."

The Union County Public Defender's Office, which represents some of the people shown in the mug shots, declined to comment when asked if the suspects chose their attire in the photos.

King said he believed the mug shots were meant to be dehumanizing.

"They have been used as political props," King said. "The most disturbing thing is people were being used this way."

Bush, president of the local NAACP chapter, said someone sent her the photos a couple of days before King's post but she thought the image had been altered.

"I couldn't believe it was an actual photograph," Bush said. "I would have never thought something like this would happen in our city."

Union County Judge Mike Lofton said he has never heard of any racial trouble in El Dorado and doesn't expect there will be any problems stemming from the mug shots. He said he had a short conversation with Roberts and that he believed everything will blow over soon.

"I think when people find out the facts of this thing it won't escalate any further," Lofton said. "Once we find out all the facts, this will pass."

Bush said she has known Roberts for a long time and said she couldn't believe he would do anything malicious.

"I can't see him doing something like this, regardless of his political views," Bush said. "But in today's day and age, nothing surprises me anymore."

Bush said the incident isn't reflective of El Dorado.

"This isn't the reputation of general population of El Dorado," she said.

State Desk on 10/12/2018

Print Headline: Mug-shot apparel at Arkansas jail draws flak; activist’s post on suspects in Nike shirts roils town


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  • GandKW
    October 12, 2018 at 6:43 a.m.

    A least they didn't demean them with an American flag in the background.

  • wolfman
    October 12, 2018 at 6:49 a.m.

    seems the sheriff is a trump whiner. all that crap just makes them look dumber..just like trump.

  • BensonHedges
    October 12, 2018 at 7:46 a.m.

    From what I see all races of criminals were equally represented which should keep our unemployed quarterback happy. If you are a law abiding tax payer that supports public safety, please don't rob, kill, brutalize anyone while you are wearing Nike clothing.

  • auntboo
    October 12, 2018 at 8:03 a.m.

    How did they lack proper attire when two of the inmates have on orange and white jumpsuits underneath their Nike t-shirt. How does he explain that????? He is lying!!!! He could have made them take a picture in the jumpsuit or used a blanket to cover everything put their face.

  • JiminyC56
    October 12, 2018 at 8:11 a.m.

    I love to watch liberals cry! If you don't want your picture taken in a Nike shirt(and I sure don't), then don't break the law.

  • Skeptic1
    October 12, 2018 at 9:11 a.m.

    And it made the national news last night. If the point was to give Nike a black eye for supporting the unemployable football player I support that. People in custody, though, have particular Constitutional rights and this infringes on them.

  • hogfan2012
    October 12, 2018 at 9:34 a.m.

    this is "deemed offensive to certain individuals" - probably the same ignorant individuals who don't find the unemployed quarterback kneeling during the National Anthem offensive. Whine, whine, whine.

  • Packman
    October 12, 2018 at 9:45 a.m.

    BWHAAAHAAHAAAHAAAHAAAAA! Brilliant. Will definitely contribute to the sheriff's re-election campaign.
    Hey hogfan - I attended the Alabama game in Fayetteville the other day and saw some Alabama athletes kneeling that made me smile. Just prior to kickoff a dozen or so Alabama players sprinted to the end zone and kneeled in what appeared to be a word of prayer because when they finished they all pointed to the sky.

  • MaxCady
    October 12, 2018 at 11:03 a.m.

    Well, at least the sheriff is an equal opportunity offender. Three blacks, two whites and a white woman.

  • Morebeer
    October 12, 2018 at 11:37 a.m.

    Idiot is playing right into Nike's savvy marketing hands. The yahoos that lick Trump's rump don't buy much Nike apparel. Further, Nike is an aging brand. How to refresh it with young people? Be rebellious!