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Georgia Pastor & Wife Arrested After 8 People Were Found Locked In Their Basement 'Against Their Will'

Photo: Griffin City Police Department
Curtis Bankston, Sophia Simm Bankston

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

Curtis Bankston, 55, and Sophia Simm-Bankston, 56, were reportedly running an unlicensed "group home" in their Griffin, Georgia home. 

The "group home" was running "under the guise of a church known as One Step of Faith 2nd Chance," the Griffin Police Department said in a statement.

Griffin Fire Rescue responded to a call at the Bankston home on January 13 about someone having a seizure.

When they arrived, they discovered the basement door had a deadbolt forcing the crew to climb through the window to reach the victim.

That's when investigators discovered the people in the basement, where many of them had mental and/or physical disabilities.

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Georgia pastor, Curtis Bankston, was allegedly holding the people against their will.

They were "essentially imprisoned against their will, which created an extreme hazard as the individuals could not exit the residence if there were an emergency," authorities said.

Police also said the Bankstons were in charge of the people's finances, medications, public benefits, and in some cases had denied them medicine or medical care.

The people in the basement ranged in age from 25-65, according to a follow-up statement released by police, and that many of them have been placed into alternative housing by the state Department of Human Services.

Five of the people in the basement were also wards of the state, police said, also confirming that the Bankstons will most likely face additional charges.

"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 said.

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The Georgia pastor, alongside his lawyer, Dexter Wimbish, spoke at a press conference on Thursday in which they denied the charges against the Bankstons.

The Bankstons lawyer argues that the pastor was caring for the people.

"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 continued, claiming he had documentation that proved the Bankstons were not profiting off the people but genuinely providing care for them.

The couple's lawyer said that, if anything, his clients may have only violated zoning ordinances by operating the care facility from their home without a local license.

The Bankstons did register the program with the state, which was confirmed with records from the Georgia secretary of state's office, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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

"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, according to AJC.

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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Brooklyn. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.