What in the A Fall from Grace is this?! A Georgia pastor and his first lady have been arrested and charged for false imprisonment after holding eight people locked up in their basement, reported NBC. The Griffin Police Department said Curtis Keith Bankston and Sophia Simm-Bankston were running an ‘unlicensed group home’ in their house under the disguise of a church program named ‘One Step of Faith 2nd Chance.’
Per the One Step of Faith Ministries website, Pastor Bankston is dedicated to giving back to the community by feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and clothing the naked. His wife’s mission is to help homeless get off the street and back into the workforce. Maybe they had good intentions?
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.
NBC reported the people held captive were between the ages of 25 and 65, five of them being wards of the state. They have been placed into housing by the Georgia Department of Human Services. “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,” said the police via NBC.
Bankston’s attorney Dexter Wimbish said the police misunderstood the situation, according to NBC. “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 via NBC. Wimbish also claimed everyone was free to come and go as they pleased and admitted the Bankstons did not have legal permissions to use their home for this operation.
“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.”
NBC reported the Bankstons will most likely face additional charges. It feels like there were other, legal and safer alternatives to helping the needy than these. What will be telling is the testimonies from the people who were saved.