A Georgia pastor has been charged with false imprisonment after police found eight people locked in his home’s basement, according to the Griffin Police Department.
Curtis Keith Bankston and his wife, Sophia Simm-Bankston, were holding the eight as part of an unlicensed “group home” for people with mental or physical disabilities, police said in a release. They ranged from age 25 to 65, officials said.
Investigators say Curtis Bankston, 55, identifies himself as pastor of a church known as One Step of Faith 2nd Chance.
The discovery was made Jan. 13, when the Griffin Fire Department and a team of EMTs responded to a report of someone having a seizure at a home on Valley Road in Griffin, officials said. The city is about 35 miles southeast of Atlanta.
“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,” police said.
“Preliminary information indicated as many as eight individuals resided in the basement … and that they were ‘locked in’ at certain times by the ‘caretakers.’”
The home has been under lease for the past 14 months, and its basement was being used “as a personal care home for the individuals, which essentially imprisoned them against their will,” police said. The eight individuals were identified as “mentally and/or physically disabled.”
Investigators called the arrangement “an extreme hazard,” because the eight would not be able to exit the basement in an emergency.
A search warrant found evidence the site was operated “under the guise” of One Step of Faith 2nd Chance church. The arrangement put the couple “in control of the disabled individual’s finances, medications and public benefits,” police said.
“These individuals had been denied their medications and, in some cases, medical care,” police said.
The eight, including five who are wards of the state, have been placed “into suitable care and housing” by the state’s Department of Human Services, officials said.
Independent investigations were conducted by the Division of Aging Services and the Department of Human Services, resulting in Curtis Bankston being arrested and charged with false imprisonment, officials said.
Sophia V. Simm-Bankston, 56, was charged with false imprisonment on Jan. 20, officials said.
The investigation is ongoing, and additional charges are likely, officials said.
“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,” police officials said in the release.
“The City of Griffin, along with D.H.S., will continue to use any resources available to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
This story was originally published January 19, 2022 9:53 AM.