Police: Residents locked up against their will at ‘group home’ in Griffin

Man arrested, wife under investigation after 8 found in basement

A husband and wife who ran an unlicensed group home in Griffin are now under investigation after police said they learned that they routinely locked their disabled “patients” in a basement against their will.

Curtis Keith Bankston, 55, was charged with false imprisonment and jailed in Spalding County. Charges could soon be coming for his 56-year-old wife, Sophia Simm-Bankston, according to Griffin 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,” Griffin police Chief Michael Yates said in a news release.

The operation came to light early Thursday morning, police said. Firefighters were called to the home along Valley Road to help paramedics treat a resident having a seizure, according to authorities.

The first responders said they had to climb through a window to access the patient because the basement door was double-key deadbolt locked. That raised the suspicions of fire officials and prompted them to notify police.

Griffin police began investigating and said they found at least eight physically and mentally disabled people were living in the basement. Police said “caretakers” locked the residents in the basement at certain times of the day and were using it as an unlicensed “group home.”

However, investigators determined the residents were “essentially imprisoned” in the basement against their will, creating an extreme emergency hazard, police said.

Bankston and Simm-Bankston were identified as the “caretakers” who ran the open care facility. They camouflaged the operation as a faith-based program that was part of a church dubbed One Step of Faith 2nd Chance, police said.

The couple had been leasing the property for 14 months. Bankston claimed to be a pastor and locked the residents in the facility with his wife’s help, investigators determined.

The couple controlled the victims’ finances, medications and the public aid they received.

Investigators obtained a search warrant and raided the house Thursday. They concluded that the victims were often denied medicine and, in some cases, medical care.

Griffin police called in state investigators from the Department of Human Services’ Division of Aging Services. The state agents launched an independent probe into the potential abuse and neglect claims. Five of the residents proved to be wards of the state. By Friday, all of the disabled patrons staying at the Bankston’s facility had been relocated and placed into suitable Department of Human Services housing.

Griffin police and the Department of Human Services continue to investigate the group home. Charges against Simm-Bankston are forthcoming and additional charges against Bankston are pending both investigations, according to police.