Depending on whom you ask, Curtis Keith Bankston is either a man of God with a long history of helping people, or he is someone who uses his purported religious credentials as a front for abusing the mentally and physically challenged.
Police have arrested Bankston and his wife, Sophia Simm-Bankston, after the discovery of multiple neglected people locked in an unlicensed “group home” in Griffin, Georgia, which is part of the Atlanta metropolitan area.
The 55-year-old Bankston was arrested on Jan. 13 and charged with false imprisonment after police raided the home where he and his wife operated an unlicensed adult care facility.
Simm-Bankston, 56, was arrested on Jan. 20 on the same charges in connection with the 2nd Chance Program, registered in-state in August 2020 as a nonprofit that offers room, boarding and food.
When they got to the location, first responders found the entrance to the basement was dead-bolted, and they had to climb through a window to reach the patient.
In the basement, they found as many as eight mentally or physically disabled people had been locked inside by the husband and wife, according to the outlet.
Pastor Curtis Keith Bankston, 55, and his wife Sophia Simm-Bankston, 56, of Griffin, were arrested for false imprisonment after authorities found 8 people suffering from a mental or physical disability between the ages of 25 & 65 inside the basement home https://t.co/TrJ9mCDXNd
— atasteofcreole (@atasteofcreole) January 23, 2022
While the facility was registered in-state, it had been operating unlicensed under the auspices of an alleged church called the One Step of Faith 2nd Chance, where Bankston claims to be a pastor. Simm-Bankston was listed as the organization’s secretary.
A search of the location led officials to conclude the husband and wife were in control of the disabled people’s finances, benefits and medications — with investigators claiming the couple in some cases would deny the individuals their medication and medical care.
“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,” the Griffin Police Department told WAGA-TV in a statement.
For his part, Bankston denied any wrongdoing through his attorney, Dexter Wimbish.
“At no time was anybody held against their will. There was no kidnapping,” Wimbish said, as reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “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 characterized the situation as a “zoning issue that has become criminalized,” claiming residents were fed three times each day and adding he had checks to prove many of them had conservators controlling their finances that paid money directly to Bankston’s church for room and board.
“That is poor judgment, it is unfortunate, it is likely a violation of a local ordinance,” Wimbish said of the locked entrance that blocked first responders’ initial attempt to enter the facility. “But it is not kidnapping, and it’s not false imprisonment. And that’s what the narrative is.”
At least one person backed up what Wimbish said about his client.
Curtis Carter, pastor of 1st True Faith Deliverance Church in Decatur, said he’s known Bankston for more than three decades and vouched for him.
“For me to hear the allegations against him, it disturbed my spirit because he’s worked with my church, he’s worked in my community and his character is beautiful,” Carter told the Journal-Constitution. “He’s not a so-called pastor or so-called preacher. He is a man of God.”
The Georgia Department of Human Services has placed all affected resident of the group home into suitable care and housing.