A former youth supervisor at the Cheltenham Youth Facility who admitted in court to slapping a handcuffed youth in the face last summer has been transferred to work in a detention center for teenage girls.
Francis P. Blidi Jr. was suspended without pay for 15 days immediately after the incident at juvenile hall last July and pleaded guilty to second-degree assault in Prince George's County District Court in February, according to state officials and court records. He was given six months' probation and an opportunity to avoid a formal conviction.
Blidi is now employed at the Thomas J.S. Waxter Children's Center in Laurel, a detention center for girls ages 13 to 18. At Waxter, Blidi works at the front desk, greeting visitors, officials said.
"He's just working the front desk. That's all he's doing. He doesn't work with any of the girls," said LaWanda Edwards, spokeswoman for the state Department of Juvenile Services.
Edwards said she could not speak in detail about Blidi's case because it is a personnel matter. Four other workers accused of assaulting a youth at Cheltenham last fall were fired and remain under criminal investigation, county prosecutors said.
Advocates for offenders in the juvenile justice system criticized the state's decision to keep Blidi in the system.
"It's incredible that anyone who abused children would simply be moved to another part of the organization," said Stacey Gurian-Sherman, director of JJ Fair, which advocates for youth and families. "If he slapped a kid in my daughter's school, he certainly would not be meeting and greeting people at the front office the next day."
Heather Ford, director of the Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition, said Blidi's case fits a pattern "of just transferring staff from facility to facility without improving training or providing minimal standards. As a result, you have a repetition of incidents throughout the system."
In a brief telephone interview yesterday, Blidi, 52, said: "I'm not in any position to comment. I don't want to start something that will be an ongoing story."
A judge granted him "probation before judgment" in the Feb. 27 hearing, meaning that if Blidi completes six months of unsupervised probation successfully, he can avoid a conviction and have his court records expunged.
According to a charging document filed by the Maryland State Police, Blidi assaulted an inmate "by slapping him in the face with his left hand. At the time of the assault, [the youth] was seated on a bench and was restrained with leg irons and handcuffed behind his back." The boy was 15.
Blidi's attorney, Gary H. Gerstenfield, said his client had an unblemished record until this incident and added that the slap did not physically harm the youth. Some witnesses said the boy had just spit in Blidi's face, said Glenn F. Ivey, state's attorney for Prince George's County.
Other workers at Cheltenham and the Hickey School in Baltimore, the state's other large juvenile detention center, have come under scrutiny for their treatment of young offenders. Last month, the Justice Department released a 51-page report that found that substantial civil rights violations had taken place at both centers.
The report, which covered incidents dating to early 2002, detailed episodes in which staff members at the two facilities choked, punched, shoved and kicked juvenile detainees.
State juvenile services officials said they are taking steps to eradicate abuse and neglect of juvenile detainees. Last week, state officials said 25 workers at the Cheltenham detention center had been reprimanded, suspended or demoted during the past six months in such cases.
Five more have been fired, including four workers accused of assaulting a youth Nov. 30, officials said. Rahim Muhammad, 42, Darnell S. Garrison, 39, Barren Van Tillman, 40, and Bryan Jackson, 21, were each charged with second-degree assault in the case.
According to charging documents, the youth said the four workers punched him in the face and kicked him in the ribs and back.
In late March, Prince George's prosecutors dropped the charges, but Ivey said yesterday that the cases will be investigated by a grand jury and that indictments are still possible.
Ivey said the charges were dismissed because further investigation was needed. He said defendants are entitled to a trial within 90 days of being charged. Ivey said he did not want to take the chance of going to trial while there was more investigation to be done.
"I certainly don't believe in a rush to judgment in these kinds of cases. I didn't want to put the cases in a scenario where we were endangering future prosecutions," Ivey said.
Muhammad said he has filed a petition seeking to be reinstated.
He said in an interview yesterday that he believes he was targeted because he is Muslim. "Hopefully justice will prevail," he said.