Columbia Heights police investigate choking at church program

Columbia Heights police are investigating after a boy claimed he was choked at a church after-school program on Thursday.

Police confirmed that they are looking into the incident, but did not release any more information because the case involves a juvenile.

However, the boy and his family are saying plenty, and they said their claims are bolstered by a cell phone video of the incident's aftermath.

In a video, the older brother of Armani Lester can be heard asking youth pastors at First Lutheran Church whether they assaulted his brother.

“I said, ‘I'm not going home for something I didn't do,’” Armani Lester said.

Lester said he was asked to leave the after-school program for the night after he inquired about what was going on with a friend.

He said some of the adults at the program - including a pastor - decided to use force to get him out.

“He grabbed me by my throat [and] started squeezing my windpipe so I couldn't breathe, because I breathe out of my mouth,” Lester said.

Lester said he called his parents, and his mother rushed to the church in disbelief.

“Why put your hand on an innocent 11-year-old child?,” Shakita Johnson, his mother, said. “Choke him, drag him out the church, like he's a criminal? He loves going to this church.”

Columbia Heights police are investigating, but no arrests have been made.
Lester’s parents hope charges are eventually filed in the case, to send a message to the church's leadership.
“If he is willing to go this far, how much farther is willing to go? If he gets excused for this, then it happens to another child, what are they going to say then?,” said Leonard Johnson, Lester’s father.

Fox 9 reached out to the church and was told the senior pastor is out of the country.