An American pastor and his wife have been arrested after police found eight disabled people in their basement ‘imprisoned against their will’.
Medics were forced to climb through a window to reach one person who had suffered a seizure because the residents were locked in a basement behind a deadbolted door.
All eight residents were aged between 25 and 65 and were suffering from a mental or physical disability.
Pastor Curtis Keith Bankston, 55 and his wife Sophia Simm-Bankston, 56 of Griffin, Georgia were arrested for false imprisonment.
However, Curtis disputes the claim that their unlicensed group home ‘One Step of Faith 2nd Chance’ were holding people against their wills.
Instead, he insists that 'they were free to come and go as they please'.
According to local authorities, the pair had leased the property for around 14 months, with the basement used as a personal care home for individuals.
According to the Daily Mail, police said they found a deadbolt on the basement door that was used to lock the patients in during certain parts of the day.
Authorities found the door deadbolted after arriving at the Valley Road residence to assist a patient who had suffered a seizure and said 'access had to be gained by climbing through the window to reach the patient.'
EMS and the Fire Department notified the police department of their discoveries.
Officers also alleged that the couple were controlling their patient's finances, medications, and public benefits – with claims some patients were denied medical care.
Earlier this week Curtis held a press conference inside his home to deny the claims. During which, his lawyer Dexter Wimbish said: “At no time was anybody held against their will. There was no kidnapping.”
The lawyer did confirm that the basement door was locked daily at 8 pm, but claimed it was a safety measure. The resident who had a key to the door was not on the premises when paramedics arrived on January 13.
“That is poor judgment, it is unfortunate, it is likely a violation of a local ordinance, but it is not kidnapping, and it's not false imprisonment. And that's what the narrative is,” Wimbish added.
The lawyer added that all residents were fed three meals a day and many of the patients had conservators that sent room and board checks to Curtis' church.
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Several people in the local church community who spoke on behalf of Curtis said the pastor and his wife routinely fed the poor and ran a shelter for disabled patients.
The residents have been moved to proper housing and five are now 'wards of the State,' according to police.
Wimbish said there is no need for a 'plea' as they 'have not done anything wrong.'
“We're going to fight it with everything that we have,” he said during the conference.
“'There is no intention to have a plea. They have not done anything wrong. Their community is standing behind them. Their family's standing behind them.”
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