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Published: Tuesday, 7/22/2008

Youth theater staffer facing sex charges

A longtime staff member for a theater program for at-risk youths was arraigned yesterday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court on charges that he had sexual contact with one of the girls involved in the group.

Washington Muhammad, 44, of 730 Boston Pl., pleaded not guilty to one count of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. He is accused of having sexual contact with a girl, who was 12 at the time, over several months late last year.

Mr. Muhammad, who faces up to five years in prison if convicted, is free on his own recognizance with instructions not to have any contact with the girl, who is now 13.

He has been involved in Self-Expression Teen Theatre for several years. Formed more than 20 years ago, the group aids central-city youth by having them perform skits that dramatize choices regarding drugs, tobacco, and alcohol.

A call to the group's office at the Frederick Douglass Community Center, 1001 Indiana Ave., was not returned yesterday.

Assistant prosecutors said Mr. Muhammad drove a van for SETT but he has been referred to as the group's leader in the past. It is unclear whether he is still working with the group pending the allegations' outcome.

Yesterday the brother-in-law of the alleged victim said the girl had been involved in the theater since the fall of 2006. He said the program had been known as a "positive outlet for youth."

"It let me down," he said. "We intend to see this through."

The allegations emerged after his young sister-in-law told friends that she had a new boyfriend, he said.

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