State Watch

Georgia pastor arrested after 8 people found ‘imprisoned against their will’ in basement

Police arrested a Georgia pastor and charged him with false imprisonment after officials allegedly found eight people locked inside his basement.

The pastor has disputed the charges.

The Griffin Police Department said in a news release on Jan. 18 that Curtis Keith Bankston, 55, and his wife, Sophia Simm-Bankston, 56, were running an “unlicensed group home” at the house “under the guise of a church known as One Step of Faith 2nd Chance.”

An investigation found that the “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,” the release said.

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

Police said they had charged Curtis Keith Bankston and that charges against Sophia Simm-Bankston were forth-coming. They added that the investigation was ongoing and that additional charges for both were likely.

“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 held a news conference on Thursday disputing the charges, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

“At no time was anybody held against their will. There was no kidnapping,” said Dexter Wimbish, his 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 said the program was registered with the state, but had failed to license it with local zoning ordinances.

The Hill has reached out to the police department for comment.

According to the police statement, emergency personnel responded on Jan. 13 to assist a patient suffering from a seizure at the home in the city of Griffin, about 50 minutes outside of Atlanta.

Responders found the basement door locked and dead-bolted and had to climb through a window to get to the patient, per the release. Inside, the release says the responders found the eight people, who police said were imprisoned 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.

By the following day, all the individuals were placed into housing.

State Watch