GRIFFIN, Ga. — A Griffin pastor now facing false imprisonment charges, along with his wife, is disputing the allegations. Griffin Police say 55-year-old Curtis Bankston, the founder of One Step Faith Ministries, and his wife, Sophia Simms Bankston, were using their home as an unlicensed group home, where seven to eight people ranging in age from 23 to 65 were being kept.
Curtis is now facing false imprisonment charges. His wife was arrested Thursday morning and is also facing false imprisonment charges. On Thursday afternoon, hours after his wife's arrest, Curtis joined his lawyer and other pastors for a news conference, denouncing the charges.
According to police, most if not all of the individuals were mentally or physically disabled and could not care for themselves. Last week, 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 they 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 help from his wife, was responsible for locking the individuals in the home's basement at certain times, according to police.
In a statement, Bankston's attorney, Dexter Wimbish, claimed the reports from police are "fraught with misinformation."
"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. The ministry does not control the finances of these individuals but rather their finances are controlled by a personal conservator or financial representative. I personally have copies of those payments," Wimbish stated.
At the news conference, Wimbish produced documents that he claimed proves the Bankstons have been giving the best care they could to the residents, not profiting off them, and at worst simply violated zoning and permitting ordinances for operating a facility out of their home.
“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 said the Bankstons should have gotten a local license to operate the facility inside of their home, and they will do so. Wimbish also said the couple has since repaired the bolt lock that police said kept residents inside against their will, which the Bankstons dispute.
“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.
The Reverend Joseph Wheeler of the National Action Network in Henry and Clayton Counties said he's worked with the Bankstons for 30 years.
“They’re not criminals. They are caring for the vulnerable among us. In this community and other communities,” Wheeler said. "And we don’t want to stand back and watch the Griffin Police Department assassinate this man’s character and his wife’s character."
Six of the residents have been placed with other services, but Shun Taylor is still there.
“It’s a safe, quiet environment, and I can take my medicine and eat my food in peace,” he said. “They’re taking care of me.”
Griffin Police are still investigating and said additional charges are possible. The state is investigating the personal care home as well.
"We’re going to fight it with everything that we have," Wimbish said, "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."
11Alive is working to find out more information from Griffin Police about the investigation and the new charges in the case.