Ga. pastor hit with ‘false imprisonment’ charges after cops discover 8 disabled people locked in basement

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Georgia police have arrested a pastor and charged him with false imprisonment after discovering eight mentally and/or physically disabled people locked inside his basement.

In a news release, Tuesday, the Griffin Police Department said Curtis Keith Bankston, 55, and his wife, Sophia Simm-Bankston, 56, were operating an “unlicensed group home” at the house “under the guise of a church known as One Step of Faith 2nd Chance.”

According to the release, Griffin Fire responded to the scene to assist E.M.S. with a patient having a seizure. Upon arrival, “the personnel noticed the entry door to the basement was double keyed (dead bolted), and access had to be gained by climbing through a window to reach the patient.”

The fire department notified the Griffin Police Department, and an investigation was initiated.

“Preliminary information indicated that as many as eight individuals resided in the basement of this residence and that they were ‘locked in’ at certain times by the ‘caretakers,'” the release stated. “The ‘caretakers’ have been leasing this property for approximately fourteen months, using the basement as a personal care home for the individuals, which essentially imprisoned them against their will, which created an extreme hazard as the individuals could not exit the residence if there were an emergency.”

“It was further determined that most, if not all, of the individuals residing in the basement, were mentally and/or physically disabled,” according to the statement.

Charges have been filed against Bankston, whom police have determined “was the individual responsible for locking the individuals in the location with the assistance of his wife, Sophia.”

Police also found that the Bankston’s “were in control of the disabled individuals’ finances, medications, and public benefits” and that they had denied their prisoners “their medications and, in some instances, medical care as well.”

Charges against Sophia Simm-Bankston are forthcoming, with additional charges for both likely as the investigation progresses.

“It is both frightening and disgusting to see the degree to which these individuals have been taken advantage of by people who were in a position of trust,” Griffin police wrote in the release.

Bankston and his attorney responded Thursday with a news conference to dispute the charges, according to a report by WXIA of Atlanta.

“At no time was anybody held against their will. There was no kidnapping,” said Dexter Wimbish, Bankston’s attorney. “There is no fraud here. This is simply a Christian man who was following his calling to help those who are in need. We cannot sit by and allow ministry to be attacked.”

Wimbish claimed the police reports are “fraught with misinformation,” adding that the Bankston’s program was registered with the state, but had failed to license it with local zoning ordinances.

“First, One Step of Faith 2nd Chance Ministries has not been operating a group home, but a Christian Ministry that supplies room and board to individuals who have oftentimes been homeless or wards of the state,” Wimbish claimed. “The ministry does not control the finances of these individuals, but rather their finances are controlled by a personal conservator or financial representative. I personally have copies of those payments.”

“You’re not talking about somebody profiting off of the backs of the poor, you’re talking about somebody who’s actually doing what God commanded us to do: go out into the byways and the highways, spread his message, and feed individuals and clothe individuals. He’s doing what his God has called him to do,” Wimbish said.

“We’re going to fight it with everything that we have,” Wimbish continued. “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.”

But social media is not buying Wimbish’s story.

All of the imprisoned individuals, who range in age from 25 to 65, have since been placed in suitable housing, according to Georgia police.

Melissa Fine


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