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Georgia pastor denies false imprisonment at group home

January 22, 2022 GMT

GRIFFIN, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia pastor denies that he was holding people against their will in an unlicensed group home.

However, police in Griffin have charged both Curtis Keith Bankston and his wife, Sophia Simm-Bankston, with false imprisonment in connection with the operation. Police say the couple at times locked as many as eight people in the basement, seizing control of their finances.

Police said earlier this week that city firefighters responded on Jan. 13 to a report of a person having a seizure at the location and found people were in a deadbolted basement, with paramedics climbing through a window to reach a patient. Police say they found the residents were all mentally or physically disabled and that the Bankstons also controlled their medications and had denied medical care to residents.

Dexter Wimbish, Curtis Keith Bankston’s attorney, told local news outlets on Thursday that his client hadn’t committed a crime.

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“At no time was anybody held against their will. There was no kidnapping,” Wimbish said. “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.”

Police say the couple disguised the home as a ministry of Bankston’s church called One Step of Faith 2nd Chance. Investigators say the couple locked residents in the basement during parts of the day. Police say all the residents were moved to new homes.

Wimbish said the person who usually has the key to the door wasn’t present the morning paramedics arrived and said residents were allowed to come and go as they pleased before the door was locked at 8 p.m.

Wimbish said he could prove some residents had others who controlled their finances who paid Bankston’s church to feed and house the residents. He said the home may have violated local rules.

“That is poor judgment, it is unfortunate, it is likely a violation of a local ordinance,” Wimbish said. “But it is not kidnapping, and it’s not false imprisonment. And that’s what the narrative is.”

Several church leaders have praised the Bankstons for their ministry.