Curtis Keith Bankston, 55, and his wife Sophia Simm-Bankston, 56, were arrested for false imprisonment after eight residents were found in the basement
EMS arrived at their home in Griffin, Georgia, to assist a patient who had suffered a seizure in the unlicensed group home operating in the basement of their home
Authorities had to enter the basement through a window after finding the basement door to be deadbolted shut
EMS and the Fire Department notified the police the couple was ‘imprisoning’ people inside their home and controlling their finances
Police in Griffin, Georgia arrested a pastor and his wife for reportedly ‘imprisoning people against their will’ after eight disabled residents were found in the basement behind a deadbolted door – when medics climbed through a window to reach one person who had suffered a seizure.
Rev. Curtis Keith Bankston, 55, and his wife Sophia Simm-Bankston, 56, of Griffin, were arrested for false imprisonment after authorities found eight people who were suffering from a mental or physical disability between the ages of 25 and 65 inside ‘a group home’ operating in the basement of their home in Griffin, about 40 miles south of Atlanta
Curtis has disputed the claims that One Step of Faith 2nd Chance – their unlicensed group home – was holding people against their wills and ‘they were free to come and go as they please.’
Authorities said ‘the ‘caretakers’ have been leasing this property for approximately 14 months, using the basement as a personal care home for the individuals, which essentially imprisoned them against their will.’
Police responded to the scene, as did state officials with the Division of Aging Services and Department of Human Services, who found multiple issues, including abuse and neglect, according to police.
Responding officers reported that they found a deadbolt on the basement door that was used to lock the patients in during certain parts of the day.
The group home came under suspicion when EMS workers and local firefighters responded to the residence early the morning of Jan. 13 to treat a resident having a seizure.
Authorities found the door deadbolted after arriving at the Valley Road residence to assist the patient because ‘access had to be gained by climbing through the window to reach the patient,’ because the basement door was double-key locked. The responders notified the police department of their discoveries.
Police also alleged that the couple controlled the patients’ ‘finances, medications, and public benefits’ and that they were often ‘denied their medications’ and ‘medical care.’
The couple ran One Step of Faith 2nd Chance – an unlicensed group home – inside the basement of their Georgia home for 14 months, according to police, and one resident had a key to the deadbolt, but reportedly not home at the time EMS arrived.
On Thursday, Curtis held a press conference inside his home, just hours after his wife was arrested, to deny the claims, with his lawyer Dexter Wimbish stating: ‘At no time was anybody held against their will. There was no kidnapping.’
It is unclear when Curtis was released from jail after being arrested on January 13.
The lawyer did confirm that the basement door was locked daily at 8pm, but claimed it was a safety measure. The resident who had a key to the door was not on the premises when paramedics arrived on January 13.
‘That is poor judgment, it is unfortunate, it is likely a violation of a local ordinance, but it is not kidnapping, and it’s not false imprisonment. And that’s what the narrative is,’ Wimbish said.
Wimbish also told reporters that the patients were fed three meals a day and many of the patients had conservators that sent room and board checks to Curtis’ church.
In addition, the Bankstons’ nonprofit was registered in August 2020, but it failed to be licensed with local ordinances, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Several people in the local church community who spoke on behalf of Curtis said the pastor and his wife routinely fed the poor and ran a shelter for disabled patients.
The residents have been moved to proper housing and five are now ‘wards of the State,’ according to police.
Wimbish said there is no need for a ‘plea’ as they ‘have not done anything wrong.’
‘We’re going to fight it with everything that we have,’ he said on Thursday.
‘There is no intention to have a plea. They have not done anything wrong. Their community is standing behind them. Their family’s standing behind them.’
Authorities in Griffin have asked that anyone whose family member has been involved with the Bankstons to contact investigators at 770-229-6450, ext. 544 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.