Mugshots from a south Arkansas jail featuring suspects in Nike shirts are not meant to demean anyone, the sheriff said Thursday.
Union County Sheriff Rick Roberts responded in a release after the mugshots drew backlash on social media. Critics claimed the photos were intended to mock Nike's recent endorsement deal with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
But Roberts said the suspects at the county jail in El Dorado simply lacked suitable attire and the Nike T-shirts were provided for them to wear.
“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.”
Roberts said the sheriff’s office did not purchase the shirts but they were “on hand and available."
He said the shirts had been used for several months prior to the Kaepernick deal.
One of the Nike shirts was in mugshots as far back as July, before the Sept. 3 announcement of the Nike-Kaepernick deal, according to the Democrat-Gazette.
“We are not, and will not, be influenced by current political and social debates in the media,” the sheriff wrote.
Roberts’ statement came after a Wednesday tweet from Shaun King, a prominent civil rights activist, according to FOX 16 of Little Rock.
“The Sheriff in Union County, Arkansas is putting Nike t-shirts on people they arrest and making them wear them during mugshots,” he tweeted. “Source says it is to mock Nike and Colin Kaepernick. Disgusting.”
Roberts said the sheriff’s office had taken steps to “rectify this issue” to ensure it never happens again.
“I understand the concern of those who may have found this offensive, and for that I apologize,” he wrote.
El Dorado is about a two-hour drive south of Little Rock.