A Georgia pastor and his wife have been charged with false imprisonment after 8 people with disabilities were rescued from a locked basement, the Griffin Police Department share.
Authorities share that 55-year-old Curtis Bankston and 56-year-old Sophia Simm-Bankston were running an unlicensed “personal care facility” out of their home “under the guise of a church known as One Step of Faith 2nd Chance.” Police arrived at the home on Jan. 13 after reports of a seizure, finding that the basement doors were reportedly secured with two dead bolt locks.
“Preliminary information indicated that as many as eight individuals resided in the basement of this residence and that they were ‘locked in’ at certain times by the ‘caretakers,’” a police statement reads. “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.”
Authorities argue that the couple “created an extreme hazard, as the individuals could not exit the residence if there were an emergency,” and report that those rescued were between the ages of 25 to 65 and “were mentally and/or physically disabled.”
2nd Chance describes itself on its website as “a program designed to promote the mental, physical and spiritual development of each participant,” per People, and that it “offers Jobs for Life classes.” The two are accused in the press release of being “in control of the disabled individuals’ finances, medications, and public benefits” and of denying them medical care.
In a press conference with lawyer Dexter Wimbish, Bankston has denied allegations made by authorities, per WXIA-TV, arguing that the group home was state-registered, adding, “everybody inside this home was here on their own free will.”
“No one was kept, held hostage,” he said. “… 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.”
According to police, some of the eight people found in the basement were placed in new housing by the Department of Human Services in Georgia.