By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Ham Lake Lutheran Church’s youth director has been arrested, accused of engaging in an ongoing sexual relationship with an underage girl.

Damian Blake Burkhalter, 47, of Blaine, is currently booked at the Anoka County Jail on possible charges of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct. Burkhalter was arrested Tuesday.

According to the jail report, Burkhalter allegedly engaged in criminal sexual conduct with a juvenile under 15 years of age.

No additional information has been released until a criminal complaint can be issued.

Burkhalter is a former Hennepin County jail guard and a married father of two. He was working as the youth director at Glen Cary Lutheran Church.

The church released a statement saying, “We are deeply distressed by the allegations. We are praying for the alleged victim and family as well as Mr. Burkhalter and his family at this difficult time.”

A church spokesperson also said the church was cooperating fully with the investigation.

A neighbor, who lives near Burkhalter, said she was stunned by the news.

“He is a very nice man, very giving,” Debra Smith said. “I don’t believe it. It has to be false.”

Before becoming the church youth director, Burkhalter was a Hennepin County jail guard for 15 years. He resigned in 2003.

Burkhalter had also recently been named to the Anoka County Corrections Advisory board. Authorities are not commenting on the case.

The Anoka County Attorney’s Office will consider any criminal charges, which are expected to be filed on Thursday.

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