VULNERABLE & VICTIMIZED: Inside look at pastor’s unlicensed care home in Griffin

Officials found eight elderly and disabled people locked in the basement of the home. Pictures show the condition they lived in.
Published: Feb. 21, 2022 at 8:27 PM EST
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GRIFFIN, Ga. (CBS46) — Locked in a basement, medications withheld, even paychecks pocketed, they’re all allegations against a local pastor and his wife running an unlicensed care home. One woman says her father was in the ICU because of it.

“He just sleeps or he just stares. He cannot sit up by himself. He can’t stand. He has what’s called dysphasia, meaning he cannot swallow. So he has a feeding tube,” Sue Durham explained.

In November, when Durham last saw her father, although the 81-year-old was confined to a wheelchair, he was free. Now three months later her father seems anything but. He’s been in the ICU after living in an unlicensed care home in Griffin, ran by One Step Faith Pastor Curtis Bankston and wife Sophia Bankston.

Locked in the Basement

On January 13, EMS responded to the home for a seizing patient. It was another resident who reported it.

“This the second time somebody having one and they said if he have another one, call y’all back and he just had another one,” the resident can be heard in a 911 call with Spalding County EMS.

Crews had to enter the home through a window to gain access. Griffin Police Department later entered the home with a search warrant. Investigators found that at least eight elderly and mentally disabled people lived in the basement. Pictures show the basement had signs posted like ‘do not knock or yell,’ its door double bolted which investigators say required unlocking from both sides.

“They were one carbon monoxide leak or fire away from 8, 9, 10 deaths,” Griffin Police Chief Mike Yates said.

CBS46 investigates exclusively obtained pictures of what officers found: a mattress soiled with feces, bunk beds blocking windows, expired food and medication.

Officials found eight elderly and mentally disabled people locked in a basement with bunk beds...
Officials found eight elderly and mentally disabled people locked in a basement with bunk beds blocking windows, a mattress soiled with feces, expired food and medication.(CBS46)

Yates continued, “There was one guy who was diabetic and he hadn’t received, at least according to him, from what we could put together, he hadn’t been seen by a physician or received his medication in over six months.”

Lawyers and activists said last month on behalf of Curtis Bankston, that no crime had been committed. Saying, clients could come and go freely, that one client had a key. Adding, the door only locked at curfew. The January 13 EMS report reveals the opposite -- residents instead explained why they didn’t have a key, that the Bankstons are the ones who unlock it.

According to the report, residents said they tried knocking on the basement door at the time of the seizure but did not get a response.

January was not the first time crews showed up to the unlicensed care home. CBS46 investigates obtained records, including body camera footage, which indicate police showed up in November for a missing resident and July for a suicidal one.

Both times it appears the officers did not go in or know the location was unlicensed.

“Hindsight is 20/20 but we go to unusual calls and things like that all the time,” the chief told CBS46.

Alleged Financial Tampering

But according to Griffin PD, their investigation continues to reveal the victimization did not stop with physical harm. “It just breaks my heart,” Durham cried. “Because he’s my dad.”

CBS46 investigates obtained a copy of an emergency order for guardianship granted to Durham over her father. A judge ruled in Durham’s favor after learning Sophia Bankston’s mother had financial power of attorney over Durham’s elderly father who had both dementia and partial blindness. A judge cited in the ruling, “it is believed funds have been misappropriated” by the pastors.

“We did find paperwork where they did sign over their food stamp benefits to the Bankston. We found the paperwork where if they had a job, they agreed to give them 20 percent of their income,” Yates added.

CBS46 investigates uncovered there was a Department of Human Services (DHS) case worker assigned to at least one resident who was a ward of the state. DHS would not confirm to CBS46 whether the case worker ever physically visited the home, claiming those records are confidential. We confirmed the state is currently investigating a total of 19 unlicensed personal care homes.

Meanwhile, detectives questioned that case worker we learned about, if she was comfortable with the unlicensed property’s conditions. But when asked, the worker asked them if she “missed something?” Officials told CBS46 her additional answers led them to believe “either she had never been in the basement, didn’t care how they were living, or was complicit in the Bankston’s actions.”

We went to the home of the Bankston’s ourselves to ask questions, the pastors did not answer the door although people could be heard talking inside.

Lawyers previously denied all abuse allegations in a January press conference.

“To do this to people who couldn’t walk, my father was wheelchair bound.” Durham questioned, “How would you expect him to get out, is no one thinking?” Adding, “or maybe they were thinking and they just didn’t care.”

Griffin PD confirms to CBS46 investigates, they expect to file additional charges in this case.

Criminal history records reveal Curtis Bankston had charges in Dekalb and Fulton Counties in unrelated cases as far back as 2003 to 2017, including misdemeanor child abandonment, simple battery, and aggravated assault. As for his church, One Step Faith is located on Proctor Street in Atlanta, according to property records. It appears to be abandoned.

CBS46 reached out to the attorney for the pastor for additional comment, we have not heard back.

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