In the summer of 2002, Brian Banks’ life changed forever.
When he was 16 years old, Wanetta Gibson, one of his classmates at Long Beach Polytechnic High in Southern California, falsely accused him of raping her in an empty stairwell on campus. He was tried as an adult and went to prison for nearly six years and was under supervised released for another five. But even after he was exonerated in 2012, there were still unanswered questions for Banks — including the question of why his accuser made such damaging claims against him in the first place. Banks' story is now depicted in the movie "Brian Banks," starring Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear and Sherri Shepherd.
“We don’t really know what the truth really is as to why she lied,” he told the New York Daily News in 2015. “I never really got a clear reason.”
Banks and Gibson "made out" that day but never had sex, Banks said. He speculated to the outlet that Gibson, who was 15 when she made the accusations against him, could have been worried that her older sister would find out that she’d been kissing Banks and tell their mother. He went on to theorize that she also could have been afraid that he’d brag about the encounter with his friends.
Banks also guessed that a security guard who caught Gibson in the hallway after the encounter may have put the idea of rape into her head. And Banks' legal team would claim in court documents years later that Gibson admitted to Banks that the adults around her had "put stuff in [her] head," according to ABC News.
Looking back on the fateful day, Banks described it to the Daily News as being like any other. He was in class for summer school but left momentarily for a phone call, where he ran into Gibson out in the hallway, he told the outlet.“We met, hugged, started talking and agreed to go to an area on our campus that was known as a make-out area,” he explained. “We went to this area and made out. We never had sex.”
By the end of the day, he’d been arrested for kidnapping and rape and was in police custody, Banks said. Taking the advice of his attorney, he pleaded no contest and ended up behind bars. Following his release five years later, he was put on parole for another five years and required to register as a sex offender and wear a GPS tracking device on his ankle.
When Gibson contacted him on social media after his release, in 2011, Banks saw an opportunity to prove his innocence, according to the Huffington Post.
“I stopped what I was doing and got down on my knees and prayed to God to help me play my cards right,” he said.
With the help of a private investigator, Banks was able to get Gibson to admit on video to falsely accusing him. However, she was unwilling to admit the truth to prosecutors; following her accusations, she and her mother sued the Long Beach school system and were awarded $1.5 million dollars. Gibson told him that she was afraid of having to pay the money back, according to the Post.
The California Innocence project, a clinical program at California Western School of Law consisting of lawyers working to right wrongful convictions, took on Banks’ case, and he was exonerated in 2012. The following year, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered Gibson to pay back the $1.5 million award, and another $1.1 million in fees, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Despite what he’s been through, Banks has said that he holds no ill will towards his accuser.
“When you put yourself in position where you have to make a decision whether you forgive somebody or you don’t, that means you are still dealing with it,” Banks told the Daily News in 2015. “I’m not dealing with it anymore. The past is the past. It already happened. Tomorrow is a mystery.”
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