In wake of counselor controversy, Dalton churches grapple with their role

In wake of counselor controversy, Dalton churches grapple with their role

February 11th, 2018 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Jenna Overby and her husband, Grant, saw Daniel Staats from 2010-13, when they say he began to make sexual overtures they felt were inappropriate.

Photo by VINCE STALLING

Jenna Overby and her husband, Grant, saw Daniel Staats from 2010-13, when they say he began to make sexual overtures they felt were inappropriate.

Jenna Overby and her husband, Grant, saw Daniel...

Photo by VINCE STALLING

Daniel Staats, who runs Helping the Hurting in Dalton, faces a charge of sexual assault by a psychotherapist

Daniel Staats, who runs Helping the Hurting in...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

DALTON, Ga. — After dinner, the Rev. Gary Mimbs knew the problems he heard were beyond his reach.

He visited Jenna Overby and her husband, Grant, at the recommendation of a mutual friend in 2010. The Overbys had gotten married less than a year earlier. They bought a house. Then, Grant's bosses cut his work in half. Jenna, who had suffered from anxiety and depression, took on a new job, one she didn't quite grasp yet.

She needed to succeed. There were medical bills. There was that fresh mortgage.

Given Jenna Overby's psychological history, Mimbs believed the couple should see an expert. If money was an issue, he said, he knew a guy who worked on the cheap: Daniel Staats, a Christian counselor. Staats ran a non-profit, allowing clients to pay whatever felt comfortable.

Staats was a calming presence to Jenna Overby, and she visited him monthly for three years, even after moving to Knoxville.

During one visit, she told him she was bisexual. When she got home, she said Staats sent her Facebook messages, asking for details about her sexual fantasies. She said he also asked her for pictures. She believed he wanted nudes.

She told her husband, and he started chatting with Staats on Facebook, too. He said Staats proposed that he exchange photos with Staats' wife. The two could discuss their own fantasies.

"He was a pervert and using his position to get off," Grant Overby told the Times Free Press last month.

He looked into reporting Staats, but he wasn't sure where to turn. Georgia law allows Staats to practice unlicensed because he is a Christian counselor.

But more than four years later, in December, Dalton police arrested Staats for sexual assault by a therapist. Another woman said he made sexual advances on her during a visit to his office, and she performed oral sex on him. Since then, Jenna Overby and about 10 other women have told police they felt Staats acted inappropriately during visits.

"It was such an egregious violation of trust," Jenna Overby told the Times Free Press. "He knew all of my secrets, or a substantial portion of them. I knew he could try to use that to discredit whatever I had to say."

Mimbs, the pastor who referred the Overbys to Staats, said he was shocked when he heard the allegations last month. He introduced other parishioners at Dalton First Church of the Nazarene to Staats.

"If I had any inkling this was going on," he said, "I would never refer someone to him."

Like other pastors in the area, he said he promoted Staats' non-profit, Helping the Hurting. He gave Staats money. He attended fundraisers. Mimbs doesn't remember how he met Staats, but he said the counselor was firmly entrenched in Dalton's Christian community at the time. (Mimbs left Dalton about eight years ago.)

Other local pastors said they, too, supported Staats and did not know problems might be underfoot, at least at first. Grace Presbyterian Church hosted a fundraiser for him, and a spokesman told the Times Free Press in a statement that leaders of the church are "extremely shocked, saddened and disappointed." They have cut funding for Staats' service.

His YouTube page features videos of him giving sermons at Rocky Face Baptist Church. The Rev. Van Smith, the church's former pastor, said Staats made the rounds in the community, filling in when lead pastors were out of town. Smith recommended his services to parishioners, along with other counselors.

In 2014, Smith stepped down from the church to spend more time caring for his ailing mother. As the church's leaders searched for an interim replacement, Staats made a play for the position, said the Rev. Reagan Marsh, Rocky Face Baptist Church's current pastor.

However, Staats' interactions with women in the building concerned some people in the church, Marsh said. He declined to provide further detail. But he said the church's leaders told Staats he could no longer preach, and they gave the interim pastor position to someone else.

"There were questions and reservations as to his suitability for pulpit ministry," Marsh said. " There were character issues. There were concerns along those lines."

Staats left the church soon after, he said. The church also cut funding for Staats' non-profit. Marsh said they did not want to support his service because his counseling seemed to veer away from Biblical teaching. There are several varieties of Christian counseling, with different ideas about how much psychological teaching should be blended with scripture. Marsh said church leaders believed Staats should be strictly adhering to the Bible.

A 2011 Dalton Daily Citizen-News article about Staats' ministry leads with the story of a woman who contemplated suicide before her mother suggested she see a therapist. The woman's mother suggests she go to Staats, whom she had heard speak at Rocky Face Baptist Church.

Smith said Staats' appearances at the church were not "an overall commercial" for his practice. But members of the church saw him as a counselor. At least one other member was on the non-profit's board.

The church's leaders do not feel guilty about their previous relationship with Staats.

"We are grateful that we had seen the discomfort [Staats caused parishioners]," Marsh said. "We're grateful that we had seen that it didn't quite comport with scripture, that we went ahead and didn't continue letting him teach and preach."

He added: "Folks have been very broken over it. They're sorrowful for the victims."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.