Man Claiming to Be 'Pastor' Held Patients Captive in Group Home Disguised as Church

A man claiming to be a pastor was recently arrested after police discovered that he was allegedly holding several patients captive in an unlicensed group home disguised as a fake church.

Police in Griffin, Georgia, said fire department officers responded on January 13 to reports of a person having a seizure at a residence at 102 Valley Road. When the officers arrived, they discovered that the door leading to the home's basement was double-locked with a deadbolt. The officers had to climb through a window to reach the patient in the basement because the door was locked, police said.

After discovering the locked basement door, fire officials notified the police department, which launched an investigation shortly afterward.

"Preliminary information indicated that as many as eight individuals resided in the basement of the residence and that they were 'locked in' at certain times by the 'caretakers,'" police said in a press release.

Police said the alleged "caretakers" had been leasing the property for slightly over a year and were using the basement as a group home for the individuals that "essentially imprisoned them against their will." In addition, a hazardous environment in case of an emergency was created.

"It was further determined that most, if not all, of the individuals residing in the basement were mentally and/or physically disabled," police said.

A police spokesperson told Newsweek that the patients in the basement ranged in age from 23 to 65.

Police continued their investigation and discovered that it was being operated by a man identified as Curtis Keith Bankston, 55, and his wife, Sophia Simm-Bankston, 56.

Police said that they were operating the basement as an unlicensed "group home" disguised as a church called One Step of Faith 2nd Chance.

"A search warrant was obtained later that day (1/13/2022), and it was determined that Curtis Bankston, who claims to be a 'Pastor,' was the individual responsible for locking the individuals in the location with the assistance of his wife, Sophia," police said.

Police also said that their investigation revealed that both Bankston and his wife had control over the patients' finances, medications and benefits. Bankston and his wife also withheld medication and, "in some instances," medical care from the patients, the police added.

Following the investigation, the individuals rescued from the basement were placed into "suitable care and housing" by the state's Department of Human Services. The department's Division of Aging Services also arrived on the scene to investigate police said.

Bankston was arrested on a charge of false imprisonment and was booked into Spalding County Jail, police said. Charges against his wife are "forthcoming," according to police.

"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," police said.

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A Georgia man was recently arrested and accused of holding eight people captive in a group home disguised as a church, police said. Above, police tape hangs across the street in front of a house in Park City, Kansas, on February 26, 2005. Larry W. Smith/Getty