When they made court-ordered visits to a Dalton, Ga., counselor, two women say, the counselor solicited them for sex.
One woman told Dalton police that Daniel Durward Staats fondled her breast, exposed himself and received oral sex from her during a July visit to his practice, Helping the Hurting. A month later, a second woman told police that Staats said he was in an open marriage and that the woman could give photos of herself to his secret Facebook page. After the counseling session, he sent her a friend request and private messages under a fake name, according to an incident report.
Four months later, on Friday, Dalton police arrested Staats on a charge of sexual assault by a psychotherapist. The crime is based on the accusations from the meeting in July. Dalton police Spokesman Bruce Frazier said a detective on the case did not think the actions in the August session constituted a crime.
Because he offers Christian-based counseling, Georgia law protects him from the level of scrutiny that a licensing board could provide a secular company. Staats, 63, told the Times Free Press in an email Wednesday, "I am not guilty of the charge."
Both women met with Staats because they were legally required to see a counselor. The woman who visited him in July was on probation, Frazier said. The woman who visited him in August, according to an incident report, was ordered by a judge.
The second woman needed anger management, Frazier said. According to the incident report, she received a list of available counselors and picked Staats because he was the cheapest.
The incident report does not say who specifically provided the woman with that list, along with the prices for each available counselor. Conasauga Judicial Circuit Senior Judge William Boyett did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday, and District Attorney Bert Poston said he didn't know anything about a list of counselors.
"You'd have to ask probation," he said in an email.
Georgia Department of Community Supervision Spokeswoman Racheal Peters said the office does not provide probationers with "a list of approved providers, per se." Instead, she said, they tell probationers about different counselors who can give them services they need. The department does not endorse any counselor, she said.
Asked about the Dalton police incident report, which says a woman received a list with prices for different counselors, Peters said, "I don't know anything about that. That's certainly not typical."
She said DCS does not do background checks on those counselors. In fact, one local DCS employee had actually visited Staats in 2011, according to an incident report. After the visit, the woman said, Staats sent her a Facebook message, asking if she wanted to be in a relationship. Peters said that information only came out as the police began investigating Staats.
Around the same time, she said DCS pulled 10 probationers from Staats' office. She said most court-ordered clients saw him because he offered alternative behavioral counseling, a rare service in the area.
Staats is not a licensed professional counselor, according to the Georgia Secretary of State's office, but he was still able to practice because he held a master of divinity degree. In Georgia, counselors do not need approval from the state government if their work features "a specialty in accordance with Biblical doctrine."
Dr. Robert Shaw, director of credentialing and professional development for the American Association of Christian Counseling, said most state governments offer that sort of dispensation for religious leaders. But usually, the law is there so pastors or priests can counsel members of their church as part of their ministry.
Shaw said in some states, Christian counselors cannot charge a fee for their services; only licensed professional counselors can. That is not the case in Georgia, said Dr. Jack Kelly, chairman of the Board of Examiners for Christian Counselors and Therapists.
But while Shaw's and Kelly's organizations credential some Christian counselors, neither group has strong oversight. They cannot prevent a counselor from practicing — they can only kick them out of the group.
On Wednesday, Helping the Hurting's website revealed little information about what Staats does. But an Internet archive search of the site shows that Staats offers a variety of services, from anger management to stress counseling to marriage seminars
The organization is a nonprofit. In fiscal year 2016, according to an IRS filing, Helping the Hurting received $48,000 in contributions and spent $57,000, mostly on salaries and rent.
Dale Beavers, a former chairman of the nonprofit's board, told the Times Free Press on Wednesday that Helping the Hurting provided counseling to those who might otherwise not be able to afford it. He said clients sometimes paid simply what they felt comfortable with.
Beavers said he helped oversee the non-profit after Staats provided counseling to him. He left the board last year and had not heard about Staats' arrest until a reporter called him.
"I am flabbergasted, man," he said. "You could knock me over with a feather. That breaks my heart."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.