At sixteen, Brian Banks was a star football player at Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, California. Going into his senior football season, he had verbally accepted a four-year scholarship to play at USC under Coach Pete Caroll, who now serves as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. However, one summer day, his life changed forever, and his dreams of playing college or professional football were abruptly suspended for the years to follow.
Banks asked his summer school teacher to be excused from class so he could go to the restroom. On his way there, he encountered a female student by the name of Wanetta Gibson, who he had known from middle school. After meeting up, they made their way to the school “make out” spot. Shortly after their encounter, they returned to class where Gibson passed a note to a fellow classmate, stating that she was raped. She later specified to her sister that Brian Banks was the man who had raped her, and they made a report to school officials. Banks was arrested that night.
On January 3, 2003, Brian was charged with to 2 counts of forcible rape and one count of sodomy with a special circumstance of kidnapping. Although Brian maintained his innocence he was facing a potential prison sentence of 41 years to life. His lawyer advised him that if he sought a trial, the likelihood that the jury would rule in his favor was slim to none and instead encouraged him to plead "no contest." At seventeen years old, Banks was faced with an impossible decision; tell the truth, maintain his innocence and risk spending the rest of his life in prison, or go before the court and his family, plead no contest, and hope for a short sentence and the opportunity to appeal. He was only given a few minutes to decide and was denied the request to talk to his family about his options. To the surprise of his family, Banks pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 6 years.
Banks attempted to appeal the decision, stating that there was no physical evidence incriminating him and that he received inadequate legal counsel. However, the petition was denied. In the meantime, Wanetta Gibson and her family sued the Long Beach School District for inadequate security and they were awarded a 1.5 million dollar settlement.
Banks and his family contacted the California Innocence Project, but there was not enough evidence to prove his innocence at the time. Banks served five years and two months of his sentence, but was required to wear an ankle monitor for months after his release and was required to add himself to the register of sex offenders. On February 28, 2011, Gibson sent Banks a friend request on Facebook which he did not accept but instead sent her a message, asking if they could meet at some point to which she agreed. Banks videotaped their encounter while Gibson recanted her statement. She confessed that he never raped her and she was afraid to come forward, worried that her family would have to return the money they received from the lawsuit. With this new evidence, Banks reached out to the California Innocence Project, and they filed a petition for habeas corpus. On May 24, 2012 the conviction was overturned and wiped from his record. He was later awarded $142,000 in compensation from the state of California.
After prison, Banks went on to resume his dream of playing football. One of the first coaches to contact him was an old friend of his, Pete Caroll. He participated in training camp with the Seahawks and later signed with the Atlanta Falcons. The story of Brian Banks will soon be released as a motion picture in 2018 which he co-produced with Justin Brooks, Director of the California Innocence Project and Aldis Hodge. Banks also co-hosted a series called Final Appeal, which premiered on Oxygen in 2017. Visit his website to see what Brian Banks is up to now or visit the California Innocence Project website to learn more about their work.