Curtis Keith Bankston and Sophia Simm-Bankston say they were operating a ministry to help people in need in their rented Georgia house. Griffith police say they found eight people locked in the basement, "essentially imprisoned against their will," NBC News reports. All of them are mentally or physically disabled, police said, adding that the unlicensed home was operated "under the guise of a church known as One Step of Faith 2nd Chance." Bankston, a pastor, and his wife controlled the eight people's finances and medications, police said. Both have been arrested on false imprisonment charges.
Several religious leaders appeared at a news conference in the home with the pastor and his lawyer, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "At no time was anybody held against their will," said the lawyer, Dexter Wimbish. "There was no kidnapping." The residents were fed three times each day, Wimbish said, adding that the basement doors were locked at 8 nightly to keep those with mental issues safe. "That is poor judgment, it is unfortunate, it is likely a violation of a local ordinance," Wimbish said. "But it is not kidnapping."
Several leaders of other churches vouched for the couple, saying they've also fed homeless people in the community. "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," said Curtis Carter, pastor of a church in Decatur. The residents were 25 to 65 years old. Police said those who "were wards of the state or willing to move have been placed in care homes." A department statement said, "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." (Read more false imprisonment stories.)