GRIFFIN, Ga. — Griffin Police Tuesday announced the recent arrest of a pastor for charges of false imprisonment.
The police department told 11Alive that 55-year-old Curtis Bankston and his wife were using their home as an unlicensed group home, where at least 8 individuals ranging in age from 23 to 65 were being kept.
Most if not all of the individuals were mentally or physically disabled and could not care for themselves, according to police.
Early Thursday morning Griffin Fire responded to the home on Valley Road for a patient having a seizure.
Firefighters found the door to the basement was dead-bolted and needed to go through a window to reach the patient in the basement. Based on what they saw, the fire department then called Griffin Police.
After obtaining and executing a search warrant, it was determined Curtis Bankston, with assistance from his wife, was responsible for locking the individuals in the home's basement at certain times, according to police.
"The 'caretakers' have been leasing this property for approximately 14 months, using the basement as a personal care home for individuals, which essentially imprisoned them against their will, which created an extreme hazard as the individuals could not exit the resident if there were an emergency," Griffin Police wrote in a news release Tuesday.
By e-mail a police department spokesperson wrote, "The home was in disarray and not conducive to clean and sanitary living conditions."
"I was surprised, heartbroken that that would happen so close to our home, not to be aware of it," said Kim Brooks who lives across the street from the Bankston's home.
She said she never met the couple, but added the neighbors were concerned and curious about what was happening inside the home.
"You could tell there were more people there than probably should be there just based on the amount of trash there every week," Brooks said.
Brooks recalled an evening where a man using a walker for assistance came to her home's door.
She said the man appeared lost, was looking for the home across the street and she guided him there. The man told her he couldn't go in through the front door but had to use a door in the back of the home and he walked around.
Tonight she hopes that man is okay if he was staying at the house.
"It makes me sad that he could have been in a situation where he wasn't being taken care of," Brooks said.
The police department release also stated the couple was in control of the disabled individuals' finances, medications and benefits and the individuals had been denied medical care in some instances.
Bankston, who is now out of the Spalding County Jail, talked with 11Alive on Tuesday night outside of the home on Valley Road but wouldn't talk with a reporter on-camera for an interview. He said he would agree to be interviewed Wednesday afternoon with his attorney by his side.
But Bankston did confirm a website for One Step of Faith Ministries was his church and he is the pastor of the church. Bankston said in his home he runs an extension of the church called One Step of Faith 2nd Chance.
In addition to being investigated by Griffin Police, the Division of Aging Services, an office within the Georgia Department of Human Services is conducting its own independent investigation into "multiple issues discovered, as well as potential abuse and neglect of these handicapped individuals," according to Griffin Police.
As of Friday, all of the individuals had been placed by DHS into "suitable care and housing," with five of them being wards of the state.
Griffin Police on Tuesday announced charges against Bankston's wife are "forth-coming" and Bankston himself could face additional charges.