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Crime: Georgia Pastor and His Wife Accused of Locking 8 People with Disabilities in Basement Against Their Will

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Spalding County Sheriff's Office (2) Curtis Bankston, Sophia Simm-Bankston © Provided by People Spalding County Sheriff's Office (2) Curtis Bankston, Sophia Simm-Bankston

False imprisonment charges have been filed in Georgia against a self-professed pastor and his wife after eight people with disabilities were freed from a basement in Griffin.

It is alleged in a statement from the Griffin Police Department that Curtis Bankston, 55, and his 56-year-old wife, Sophia Simm-Bankston, had been operating an unlicensed "group home" or "personal care facility" at their home.

Detectives allege the couple ran the operation "under the guise of a church known as One Step of Faith 2nd Chance."

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According to the statement, the Griffin Fire Department arrived at the home on the morning of Jan. 13 after receiving reports of a patient having a seizure.

Emergency responders contacted police after finding the basement's doors 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,'" reads the statement. "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."

The couple's alleged actions "created an extreme hazard, as the individuals could not exit the residence if there were an emergency."

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Many of the people rescued "were mentally and/or physically disabled." They ranged in age from 25 to 65.

The church's website describes 2nd Chance as "a program designed to promote the mental, physical and spiritual development of each participant and empowers them with love, respect, forgiveness and faith through the meaning and significance of Christian values."

The program claims to be a nonprofit that "offers Jobs for Life classes" as well as "employability training" to "male and female and ex-felons, regardless of ethnic background, who are re-entering society after incarceration and have demonstrated a willingness to make positive changes."

The police statement alleges the couple locked the basement door, and "that the Bankstons were in control of the disabled individuals' finances, medications, and public benefits. The investigation also revealed that these individuals had been denied their medications and, in some instances, medical care as well."

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Bankston has denied the allegations, and held a press conference Thursday with his attorney, Dexter Wimbish, which was covered by WXIA-TV.

Wimbish said the group home was registered with the state, and that claims made by police the about his client are "fraught with misinformation."

"Everybody inside this home was here on their own free will, they were free to come and go as they please," Wimbish said. "No one was kept, held hostage. ... 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."

The police statement says some of the eight individuals have been placed into alternative housing by the state's Department of Human Services.

PEOPLE could not reach the Bankstons for comment Monday.

It was unclear if either had entered a plea to the false imprisonment charge they each face.

Police say they matter remains under investigation.

Read the original article on People

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