An Atlanta-area pastor charged for allegedly locking people with disabilities in his basement hit back on Thursday, denying that he’d ever held anyone against their will. Instead, Curtis Bankston’s team claimed that he is in the crosshairs of a media attack against a Black man whose reputation is being tarnished.
“I am disturbed by this continual attack on Black men in America,” Bankston’s attorney, Dexter Wimbush, said during a press conference in the actual basement. “It is unfortunate that the news media will highlight the wrongs that Black men do. But there seems to be this intentional plan to eradicate even the Black men in this country who are doing the right thing.”
Bankston, the head minister of One Step of Faith Ministries and One Step of Faith 2nd Chance in Griffin, was arrested Jan. 13, CBS 46 Atlanta reported. Emergency services said they were called to a home for a patient having a seizure and instead found eight mentally or physically disabled people in a dead-locked basement. Crews had to climb through a window to get to them, FOX 5 Atlanta reports.
“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," the City of Griffin Police Department told FOX 5 in a statement at the time.
The pastor and his wife, who live upstairs, had been using the basement as both a ministry and an unlicensed group-home facility, investigators told FOX 5.
Bankston has been charged with false imprisonment and accused of controlling government funds and benefits given to the residents he houses. Bankston claimed he has no access to that money, and that residents’ finances are managed by conservators and financial representatives. Separately, however, he claimed that his ministry gets paid to house eight homeless people in the area. He declined to say who provides those funds.
In a previously released statement, Wimbush said, “It is unfortunate that the reports in the press have been filled with inaccurate information that has painted Pastor Bankston, his wife, and his ministry in a negative light… First, One Step of Faith-2nd Chance Ministries has not been operating a group home but a Christian Ministry that supplies room and board to individuals who have oftentimes been homeless or wards of the state.”
Bankston appeared at the press conference held in his basement on Thursday but didn’t speak. Instead, a team of theological colleagues waxed lyrical about his contributions to the community.
“This is simply a Christian man who was following his calling to help those who are in need. We cannot sit by and allow [the] ministry to be attacked,” he said. “Just because you don’t have a church with 2,000 or 5,000 people does not mean you don’t have a calling from the Lord.”
Wimbush alleged that the issue was really about zoning ordinances that have become criminalized, suggesting that local authorities in Griffin weren’t comfortable with the type of services Bankston was providing in his basement. Wimbush did acknowledge an incident with a locked door, but claimed no one was kept against their will. He said residents had a curfew and some had to be kept inside for their safety.
“There’s no evidence that anybody tried to leave…and couldn’t leave,” he said. “The situation arose simply because EMS responded.”
Rev. Joseph Miller from the National Action Network claimed the arrest was based on a culture of “racial bias” in Griffin.
“[T]he chief has the power to tag any charges on any citizen in this city. And you can criminalize anybody that you want to, if you want to do it. But he also has the opportunity to investigate thoroughly and without bias and follow the facts.”
When asked by reporters if Bankston could speak for himself, Wimbush stepped in.
“Let’s not be naive here,” he said, “Anything that [Bankston] says, can and will be used against him… He hired me to speak for him.”