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Union County sheriff says Nike shirt not meant to demean suspects

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THURSDAY UPDATE:

A day after mug shots from a south Arkansas jail drew social-media criticism, the sheriff said a Nike shirt some suspects was pictured was not meant to demean anyone.

Union County Sheriff Rick Roberts said in a Thursday news release that the people in lacked “proper attire” when they were booked into the jail and the shirt was among clothing provided so that the individuals had something to wear in mug shots.

Roberts added that the T-shirt had “been deemed offensive by certain individuals” and that the agency would ensure "that this will never happen again.”

“It is not our intent, nor has it ever been our intent, to demean or disparage those who are innocent until proven guilty,” the sheriff said in the statement. “I require that my staff treat everyone with the utmost dignity and respect.”

In Wednesday social media posts, activist Shaun King accused the sheriff’s office of using shirts to mock Nike and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

About 9 p.m. Wednesday, less than an hour after King posted the allegation, the sheriff’s office removed all photos of inmates from the jail’s online roster.

Though King’s post features two Nike shirts — a large, black T-shirt with NIKE ATHLETICS in boldface font above Nike’s signature check mark and a black polo shirt with a small white Nike swoosh in the upper right-hand corner — the second shirt could be seen in mug shots as far back as July, before the Sept. 3 announcement of the Nike-Kaepernick deal.

The NIKE ATHLETICS shirt began to show up in mug shots around Sept. 15, according to the jail’s roster.

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,” the sheriff wrote.

Roberts noted that one of the shirts has been used “for several months.”

He ended the statement by saying he understood “the concern of those who may have found this offensive” and apologizing.

Read Friday's Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

WEDNESDAY STORY:

An activist on social media alleged Wednesday that a sheriff’s office in south Arkansas was forcing inmates to wear a Nike shirt in mug shots to mock the company’s recent deal with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Activist and columnist Shaun King posted a photo of 12 inmates wearing Nike shirts on Twitter and Facebook late Wednesday and said that Union County 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.”

In early September, Nike made a deal to feature Kaepernick on billboards, television and online ads.

The former 49ers quarterback gained national attention in 2016 when he began kneeling during the national anthem in protest of the country's treatment of members of minority groups.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reached out to the Roberts on Wednesday evening but was unable to speak with him. Calls to the sheriff’s office were directed to a voicemail for the the public relations officer, Chief Deputy Charles Phillips, who was also unavailable Wednesday night.

About 9 p.m. Wednesday, less than an hour after King posted the allegation to social media, the Union County sheriff’s office removed all photos of inmates from the jail’s online roster.

Before the photos were taken down, at least 11 of the 182 inmates were shown wearing a large, black T-shirt with NIKE ATHLETICS in boldface font above Nike’s signature check mark.

Though King’s post features two Nike shirts — the aforementioned T-shirt and a black polo shirt with a small white Nike swoosh in the upper right-hand corner — the second shirt could be seen in mug shots as far back as July, before the Sept. 3 announcement of the Nike-Kaepernick deal.

The NIKE ATHLETICS shirt began to show up in mug shots around Sept. 15, according to the jail’s roster.

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