January 29, 2022

USA: Pastor And Wife In Atlanta Accused Of Locking 8 Elderly And Disabled In Basement, Collected Their State Checks, Denied Them Medication And Medical Care. Charged With False Imprisonment.

11Alive published January 18, 2022: Pastor arrested for running unlicensed group home, Griffin police say. Griffin Police began investigating the home Thursday. Now state investigators are also looking into the home.
11Alive published January 20, 2022: Pastor's wife now also facing charges after at least 8 people discovered in Griffin home. Griffin Police began investigating the home Thursday.

Now state investigators are also looking into the home.
CBS46 Atlanta published January 19, 2022: Details released about pastor, wife accused of locking people in their care in the basement. More details have been released about the pastor and his wife who are accused of locking people in their care in the basement of their Griffin home.
CBS46 Atlanta published January 20, 2022: Pastor and his wife deny allegations. The Griffin pastor who was arrested Jan. 13 for locking people with disabilities in the basement of his home held a press conference Thursday afternoon.
11Alive published January 20, 2022: Attorney disputes claims after pastor, wife face false imprisonment charges. The pastor joined his lawyer for a press conference, denouncing the charges.

NBC News
written by Elisha Fieldstadt
Friday January 21, 2022

Investigators determined that the eight people in the basement, all with mental or physical disabilities, or both, were “essentially imprisoned against their will.”

A Georgia pastor and his wife were arrested on charges of false imprisonment after officials found up to eight people locked in their basement, police said.

Curtis Keith Bankston and Sophia Simm-Bankston were running the unlicensed "group home" out of their rented Griffin house "under the guise of a church known as One Step of Faith 2nd Chance," the Griffin Police Department said in a statement.

Griffin Fire last week responded to a call about someone having a seizure at the home and noticed a deadbolt on the basement door, according to police. Crews had to climb through a window to reach the patient.

Investigators determined the people in the basement, all with mental or physical disabilities, or both, were "essentially imprisoned against their will, which created an extreme hazard as the individuals could not exit the residence if there were an emergency," police said.

The Bankstons controlled the finances, medications and public benefits of the people they were keeping in the basement and had sometimes denied them their medications and medical care, according to police.

The people, who range in age from 25 to 65, were all placed into housing by the Georgia Department of Human Services. Five of the people kept in the basement are wards of the state, police said.

Curtis Keith Bankston, 55, and Sophia Simm-Bankston, 56, will likely face additional charges, police 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," the police statement said.

A bio on One Step Of Faith Ministries' website said Curtis Keith Bankston is committed to "feeding the hungry," "clothing the naked," "housing the homeless" and "helping the brokenhearted find a way out through Christ."

His attorney, Dexter Wimbish, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

But in a statement, Wimbish said police statements were “fraught with misinformation," NBC affiliate WXIA of Atlanta reported.

“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 said.

“Everybody inside this home was here on their own free will, they were free to come and go as they please. No one was kept, held hostage,” Wimbish said.

Wimbish admitted that the Bankstons did not have the necessary local license to operate the home, but said they would get it.

He said the Bankstons deny the residents were held against their will, and had repaired a faulty bolt lock on the basement door.

“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 said of the charges. “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.”
written by Brett Davis
Monday January 24, 2022

Depending on whom you ask, Curtis Keith Bankston is either a man of God with a long history of helping people, or he is someone who uses his purported religious credentials as a front for abusing the mentally and physically challenged.

Police have arrested Bankston and his wife, Sophia Simm-Bankston, after the discovery of multiple neglected people locked in an unlicensed “group home” in Griffin, Georgia, which is part of the Atlanta metropolitan area.

The 55-year-old Bankston was arrested on Jan. 13 and charged with false imprisonment after police raided the home where he and his wife operated an unlicensed adult care facility.

Simm-Bankston, 56, was arrested on Jan. 20 on the same charges in connection with the 2nd Chance Program, registered in-state in August 2020 as a nonprofit that offers room, boarding and food.

An investigation into the group home was launched after firefighters and medical personnel responded to a patient having a seizure at the home on Valley Road on Jan. 13, WAGA-TV reported.

When they got to the location, first responders found the entrance to the basement was dead-bolted, and they had to climb through a window to reach the patient.

In the basement, they found as many as eight mentally or physically disabled people had been locked inside by the husband and wife, according to the outlet.

While the facility was registered in-state, it had been operating unlicensed under the auspices of an alleged church called the One Step of Faith 2nd Chance, where Bankston claims to be a pastor. Simm-Bankston was listed as the organization’s secretary.

A search of the location led officials to conclude the husband and wife were in control of the disabled people’s finances, benefits and medications — with investigators claiming the couple in some cases would deny the individuals their medication and medical care.

“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,” the Griffin Police Department told WAGA-TV in a statement.

For his part, Bankston denied any wrongdoing through his attorney, Dexter Wimbish.

“At no time was anybody held against their will. There was no kidnapping,” Wimbish said, as reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “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 characterized the situation as a “zoning issue that has become criminalized,” claiming residents were fed three times each day and adding he had checks to prove many of them had conservators controlling their finances that paid money directly to Bankston’s church for room and board.

“That is poor judgment, it is unfortunate, it is likely a violation of a local ordinance,” Wimbish said of the locked entrance that blocked first responders’ initial attempt to enter the facility. “But it is not kidnapping, and it’s not false imprisonment. And that’s what the narrative is.”

At least one person backed up what Wimbish said about his client.

Curtis Carter, pastor of 1st True Faith Deliverance Church in Decatur, said he’s known Bankston for more than three decades and vouched for him.

“For me to hear the allegations against him, it disturbed my spirit because he’s worked with my church, he’s worked in my community and his character is beautiful,” Carter told the Journal-Constitution. “He’s not a so-called pastor or so-called preacher. He is a man of God.”

The Georgia Department of Human Services has placed all affected resident of the group home into suitable care and housing.

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