Preeta Nasir slapped a child in the face at her day-care center last year, leaving a bruise that lasted days. Her in-home center was shut down, and she was found guilty of assault and battery of a 4-year-old in December.
On Tuesday, she faces a retrial in a case some say is about a lapse in judgment as Nasir tried to protect an infant in her care after a rambunctious older child had thrown a ball at the baby. Some parents have rallied to defend Nasir, 58, who had run the center for 22 years without another allegation of abuse.
“She slapped a child in the heat of the moment. She thought he was endangering other children and she slapped him,” said Oliver Taft, who had a toddler in Nasir’s care at the time of the incident. “You don’t wreck someone's life over a tiny lapse in judgment. She’s already been punished for this.”
There are more than a dozen letters of support in Nasir’s attorney’s file. Some express frustration with Nasir’s center being shut down.
Authorities are “not able to distinguish criminal acts from those of a daycare provider that was forced to protect a defenseless infant from the actions of a child with widely known behavioral issues,” reads a letter signed by Mike and Romaine Winiarski, whose daughter was in the center.
After the incident came to light, at least two sets of parents pulled their children out of Nasir’s center. Many, however, kept their children there until Preeta’s Daycare was shut down in December.
One couple, George and Reina Blake, even put their children in Nasir’s care for the first time after she struck the boy.
“It was also obvious that the action was completely out of her nature and was the unfortunate result of many factors,” the Blakes wrote. “She never tried to minimize or conceal what happened.”
The incident happened July 13 at Nasir’s Alexandria home, where Nasir and her assistants cared for 11 children at a time, from infants to 5-year-olds.
The 4-year-old boy had been a disciplinary problem that day, said Nasir’s attorney, Joseph King. He urinated on the bathroom floor and rubbed it on a door, King said.
Then, late in the afternoon, he threw a tennis ball toward a 3-month-old who was in the arms of an adult, nearly hitting the baby, King said. Day-care rules prohibited throwing balls inside, King said.
That was when Nasir slapped him. She then hugged him and put ice on his face, King said. When the mother picked up the boy later that day, he said, she told the mother about the incident.
Fairfax County Child Protective Services began an investigation two days later. The next week, the county ruled that she had abused the child.
Nasir appealed, but her center was shut down after she was found guilty of assault and battery by a judge in Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
Tuesday’s trial in Fairfax County Circuit Court is an appeal of that verdict. The prosecutor in the case, Ryan Fitzgerald, did not return a call seeking comment.
Because no jury trials are available in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, all of its rulings can be appealed to circuit court.
Under Virginia law, a parent or guardian can use force against a child “within the bounds of moderation and reason.” They can be convicted if the force is found to be excessive, or if a judge finds that malice was used.
If found guilty, Nasir faces up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
Child Protective Services would need to reverse its finding of abuse if she were to attempt to regain her day-care license.