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A Georgia couple who operated an unlicensed care home disguised as a church is accused of imprisoning residents against their will in their basement, police said.
Curtis Bankston, 55, and Sophia Simm-Bankston, 56, allegedly “locked” at least eight people with physical and mental disabilities in the basement of their purported worship center.
The couple, who ran the purported church One Step of Faith 2nd Chance in Griffin, Georgia, were arrested and charged with false imprisonment.
First responders were dispatched to a property at 102 Valley Road on Jan. 13 after reports of an individual suffering from a seizure. Upon arrival, personnel with the Griffin Fire Department were unable to gain entry to the property’s basement, which had been double-bolted. Emergency responders were forced to climb through a window in order to reach the individual.
Eight people were found to be in the basement at the time of the emergency call. The incident was later reported to police, who launched an investigation.
Bankston and Simm-Bankston were ultimately identified as the caretakers of the people that first responders discovered in the property’s basement.
Further investigation revealed that the people found in the basement had been “locked in” in the basement for hours at a time and, in some cases, were denied medications, medical care and the public benefits to which they were entitled.
Police said the couple had been utilizing the basement as a personal care home, which “essentially imprisoned them against their will” and “created an extreme hazard as the individuals could not exit the residence if there were an emergency.”
Investigators concluded that “most, if not all,” of the eight individuals found in Bankston and Simm-Bankston’s care were mentally and/or physically disabled,” the City of Griffin Police Department said in a statement.
Bankston, who claimed to be a pastor, locked the care home's residents in the basement with the help of his spouse, according to Griffin police. The couple was also in control of their victims' finances, police said.
Bankston and Simm-Bankston had been leasing the property for approximately 14 months, according to a police press release. Officials said that residents of the basement are in the process of being relocated to different, licensed care facilities.
The two spouses were booked into a Spalding County detention facility, and then released after posting a $15,000 bond each, county officials confirmed.
Local authorities haven’t released additional information pertaining to the pending case involving Bankston and Simm-Bankston. Griffin Police Investigator Laurie Littlejohn declined to comment further this week. No court dates have been set in the open matter, Marie Broder, the District Attorney for Spalding County, confirmed with Oxygen.com on Tuesday afternoon. Defense attorney information for Bankston and Simm-Bankston wasn’t immediately available.
Anyone who may have had contact or had loved ones residing at Bankston and Simm-Bankston’s purported church are urged to contact Griffin Police detectives at 770-229-6450 ext. 544.
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