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Lawsuit: First Baptist Canton 'Enabled' Sexual Abuse

The parents of one of the victims, who was 14 years old at the time he was abused, have filed a civil lawsuit in Cherokee County Superior Court.

allowed a fired employee with a history of suspected sexual misconduct against children to return to the church as a volunteer, a misstep that led to the sexual battery of a teenage boy, the parents of the alleged victim claim in a civil suit.

The boy's parents are suing the church, senior pastor George Anderson and former church employee Shawn Finch, alleging that they not only failed to properly supervise the volunteer and the children in their care, but tried to "downplay" the abuse in a meeting at the church.

A Cherokee County grand jury in April 2011 indicted the volunteer, 29-year-old Matthew Brent Sheffield of Canton, in the alleged June 2010 sexual battery of the boy, who was 14 years old at the time. Sheffield, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, faces two felony counts of child molestation.

Patch does not name victims of sex crimes. To protect the alleged victim's identity, Patch is not naming his parents, who are represented by Woodstock attorney Channing Ruskell. Ruskell and the church's senior pastor could not be reached for comment.

UPDATE: 

According to the suit, which was filed Aug. 1 in , Sheffield supervised children as a First Baptist employee, and was a substitute teacher.

Though court documents don't specify a precise time, at some point, the parents of "male students who attended " met with church officials and reported that their children had received "sexually explicit text messages from Defendant Sheffield." They also said Sheffield made "sexually suggestive remarks to male students."

While the church's pastor and Finch urged Sheffield to discontinue the texts, they never notified the Cherokee County School District of the allegations. Sheffield was only relieved of his subsitute duties after parents notified school officials of the texts.

He was later fired from First Baptist Church for "insubordination" after officials learned that Cherokee High students continued to receive texts from Sheffield. Despite his termination, he returned months later as a volunteer to run First Baptist's sound system.

In 2010, he was operating the sound system for First Baptist's Bible School, a program that brought Sheffield in contact with children.

"It was at that time that Defendant Sheffield initiated actions that led to his sexually abusing the Plaintiffs' minor child by sending him text messages and making inappropriate remarks to the minor child," according to the civil suit.

During the program's June 14, 2010, session, Sheffield allegedly sexually abused the couple's child and the boy refused to return to Bible School.

According to the April 2011 indictment, Sheffield placed "his hand on the thigh and leg of the said child and did rub the said child's leg, with the intent to arouse and satisfy the sexual desires of the said accused and child." He also "touched the buttocks of the said child."

Unaware of the abuse at the time, the boy's parents paid for him to accompany First Baptist on an out-of-state trip to the beach one week later.

Sheffield was allowed on the trip to Florida.

"It was during this time that Defendant Sheffield again committed sexual battery upon Plaintiffs' minor child who reported the matter to his sister and his mother," according to the civil suit. "The incident was reported to law enforcement by the child's father."

When contacted by authorities, the parents said Finch, now an associate pastor and minister to students at Woodridge Baptist Church in Kingwood, Texas, "failed to report ... Sheffield's past sexual abuse of children."

Instead, he "attempted to cover for Sheffield by portraying to officers that Plaintiffs' child was an unruly youth ... not worthy of belief."

The suit spells out other attempts to cover up the alleged abuse.

In one instance, First Baptist rented Sheffield a car "so he could get away before Plaintiffs were able to get to Florida to pick up their child."

And during a meeting at First Baptist, Anderson allegedly "attempted to downplay the abuse that occurred on the trip to the beach, indicating that the matter was closed."

The matter wasn't closed. 

In August 2010, Sheffield was arrested. He was indicted eight months later. The criminal case is pending.

And, according to the suit, the family of another boy who attended youth programs at First Baptist came forward and accused Sheffield of offering "to pay the grandson $50 to give Sheffield a 'blow job.' "

It's not clear if the family reported that accusation to local law enforcement.

The parents of the 14-year-old boy, who has had to seek medical and psychological treatment, are seeking damages and attorney's fees.

"Had Defendant First Baptist, Defendant Dr. George Anderson and Defendant Shawn Finch not been negligent in managing the risk posed to children by persons, such as Sheffield, who have a sexual interest in children," according to the civil suit, "(they) would have prevented other children, including the Plaintiffs' minor child from being sexually battered by Sheffield."

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Andrew August 11, 2012 at 04:14 AM
My thoughts are this: The defendant was fired by school system for texting that is not appropriate. I could never imagine a substitute teacher texting me. Not normal and especially the ones he sent. He was finally released from FBC for continuing to text teanage boys. At that point, he should never be put in any role that gives him acress to young men. Even if nothing happened during the youth event in FL and no charges filled, it was a serious lapse of judgement by Pastor George to allow him to go. It is that simple......... You don't get a second chance when it comes to the safety of children. I was molested as a child and it continues to haunt me to this day. And people loved the man that destroyed my life. Predators are not monsters on the outside. They work very hard to fit in and go under the radar. They look like your best friend, coach, teacher, pastor, and even you.
People are Crazy August 11, 2012 at 04:25 AM
Dear God. Please forgive Mabel Bell because she is obviously a nieve individuab who doesn't understand how fragile young minds, hearts and souls can be when attacked and abused by people older than them in positions of authority. Especially when the child does everything that they are taught to do and are still put in danger of more verbal, emotional or sexual abuse. I pray that she can live the remainder of her life without knowing the horrors of what these type actions can do to young men and women. May your will be done in this situation on Earth and in afterlife. Amen.
EX-MEMBER August 11, 2012 at 08:27 PM
You do understand the difference between anonymous remarks posted here & the actual INDICTMENT of Sheffield, right? No, probably not.. Just because someone posted the indictment was about a butt slap or just because someone posted text messages Sheffield allegedly sent 6 years ago - that doesn't mean boo. You are dim & easily manipulated - so if you're not an Andersonite, you're missing a good opportunity.. Your bizarre line of reasoning about the daughter's whereabouts is embarassing. Neither you nor I know the real facts of what happened at the FL camp, but leaping to the conclusion that the parents have put together some sort of 3+ year conspiracy in an attempt to make some 'quick cash' from a lawsuit with no evidence to present, while sacrificing their son? What sort of idiot accepts that story as realistic? Have you spent much time around Sheffield? If not, what is it that motivates you to defend someone you know nothing about? You don't know his history or issues, so why bash a teenager & defend GA/Sheffield? You resemble an Andersonite - sit in the pew, eyes glazed over, drooling & slack-jawed, nodding your head at GA's every word. You heard about GA running off staff, shutting down Mission Point Academy, driving the church to the brink of financial ruin, refusing to actually pastor or counsel, showing very little interest in any ministry other than the GA pulpit drama show - but you write off the thousands who've left FBC because of GA as what? Liars? Haters?
Former FBC Member August 12, 2012 at 01:12 AM
I am amazed at the responses and blatant disregard for the facts surrounding this mess, those that defend the actions of the leaders of the church are even more astounding. Excuse... point the blame elsewhere... another excuse then accuse anyone with an opposing viewpoint of trying top destroy the church... excuse... demonize the victim.....excuse....you obviously have a personal dislike for the pastor and that is why you are upset...excuse.... politely direct those in disagreement to their own church because obviously they don’t do as much for their church as I do for mine, you know we don’t like troublemakers here. So asking the pastor to act as the clear thinking leader of the congregation is an attack on the church? Asking my former church to take every precaution in protecting my child while on the churches grounds is an attack on the church? Asking the church and its leaders to not allow known predators around my child is an attack on the church? Obviously there are many in that church that have willfully chosen to ignore what is behind the "curtain". Ignorance is acceptable, willful ignorance and the failure to acknowledge the truth is not. This is not an attack on the church; it is a defense of the church.
we got your back buddy! August 12, 2012 at 03:08 AM
your a sick sick person for think this this boy was abused and is being put through hell by youpeople who say quick cash thats not at all whats going on brent is a pervert who deserves all he get the faimly of this boy asked two years ago to be appologized to and help pay for counseling the amount the family tithed to the church would have covered the counsling if you dont know the story then shut the heck up
EX-MEMBER August 12, 2012 at 06:10 AM
the funny thing abour incorrect assumption that I'm some sort of serial anti-G.A. blogger is that you're so brainwashed & weak that you fail to consider there might actually be quite a few local folks who know GA, have been members of FBC, & believe strongly the guy is an arrogant sociopathic narcissist with a breathtakingly bad record of lousy judgement - and have no problem posting or blogging about it. There have always been arrogant jerks & predator pervs. What's somewhat alarming is that we seem much more easily fooled & won over by them now then was once the case. GA should've been tossed out on his can about the time he started plotting for absolute control of the church's finances when the new bldg was constructed - but there weren't many principled, wise men at FBC willing to show him the door, apparently.. However this issue is judged in the courts, it was poor judgement to put Sheffield in charge of leading MS boys sunday school - alone in a room with them. Spend 5 min. around the guy & you see he's immature, unprofressional, effeminate - and lacks experience & a seminary degree...And the church kept him on staff even after his sexting problems came to light!?? But of course they couldn't afford a real MS pastor, since GA was driving the church to the brink of financial ruin - and oh yeah, Sheffield was close to the Andersons. The church is still "led" by rubber stamp yes men committes - just look at the nepotism with immediate GA family members on staff there..
EX-MEMBER August 12, 2012 at 06:23 AM
what's sad to see is a family sending their troubled boy off to church camp, praying that he be ministered to & that he find strong, Godly men to emulate & be mentored by - but then finding out some queer 'volunteer' has fondled their kid & sexually propositioned him. What do you think that does to a 14 yr old boy? Just the idea that it's perfectly fine to send a guy as a volunteer chaperone on a youth camp that the church can no longer employ because of his 'issues' is crazy! Your heartfelt concern for me & my 'anger problem' is nice, but how about some compassion for this kid, huh? What sort of monsters are you that instead of wrapping your arms around him & his family, you go on the attack? How can you be so fooled by one man that you're unable to show compassion like that? I guess you're just emulating your hero. What sort of impact has FBC had the last 10 years on the local community? Have they helped the poor, fed the widows & orphans? For a church that size, what financial impact have they had in the area of benevolence? What groups have they reached out to? How about the hispanic community? Nope, ran them off. How about abused kids? Nope, they actually enable that.. How about ex-cons, people struggling with substance abuse, etc.? If you're homeless & hurting, is FBC a place for you to seek out to nourish your body & soul? Nope.. No, the church is totally focused inward & when GA sees a distraction, he moves to shut it down. And you let him - so you're an enabler too
Past member as of today August 12, 2012 at 04:04 PM
A grand jury of 21 members found enough evidence to charge Brent with 2 counts of child molestation. Not a slap on the rear that the church has been feeding us for the last two years. Brent is going to a criminal trial. That doesn't happen without strong evidence.
Previous Member August 12, 2012 at 04:47 PM
Past member as of today- has the church made a formal announcement to the congregation stating the true facts or are they still trying to cover all of this up? It doesn't seem like they have yet, there are still foolish, misinformed members posting on this blog. How dumb do you think they are going to feel when they are proven wrong?
Canton Parent August 12, 2012 at 06:48 PM
Observer- why does there have to be a motive? It's quite simple...the man over stepped his boundaries numerous times by texting male students, touching males students, and god knows what else he has done. That is the problem at hand, an adult touching a child in a sexual manner is not acceptable especially when he is working at a church. The church should have properly dealt with the situation instead of trying to cover it up saying that the victim was unruly. I bet George and Shawn would not have acted like that if Brent had done that to one of their sons but you never know, they might not care about that stuff it may be normal for them but it is not normal for any parent to do nothing when their child is sexually assaulted.
Canton Parent August 12, 2012 at 06:49 PM
So you bringing up his family affairs and money shows that you have nothing to back up what you are trying to say, but instead bashing the child, how pathetic. Brent is the one that has a bad track record of SEXUALLY HARASSING numerous young males and people know that so you saying what you say just makes you look like another one of the spineless idiots who is trying to defend the church and their ignorant approach to the situation. If the child was the only victim and Brent had never had complaints made about him harassing other young males then by all means think what you would like and say the child made up this entire story. However, that is not the case here. Brent was indicted by a grand jury on 2 felonies of child molestation, in order for that to happen they have to have proof, so I am trying to figure out how anything you have said in your comments is even remotely logical given the evidence. I pray you are not a parent because that would be a poor excuse of a role model for those children, I'm not one to judge but with your comments it is an appropriate judgement to pass. 
Maria August 12, 2012 at 10:32 PM
I'm so thankful I am a member of a church that has precautions against such nonsense. I'm thankful for church leaders that are not lacking in integrity. Obviously, I'm not a member of FBC.
CA August 12, 2012 at 11:05 PM
So s child's behavior determines whether or not he should be protected from a sexual predator? Several of your comments make you sound like a disgruntle employee. I consider the parents as my friends & I believe accountability is the main issue where it concerns the pastor & Shawn.
CA August 12, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Church members who are there to worship Christ should stay & have the pastor resign. There are lot of precious folks at FBCC. Don't let this rip your church apart. Have Pastor George leave the church.
Lucy August 13, 2012 at 03:17 AM
There was a formal announcement made last Sun. and today. There also was a meeting that was open to all parents immediately as the kids returned from the summer camp trip 2 years ago, along with another LENGTHY meeting that was open to anyone who had questions, concerns, etc. There were also numerous Deacon meetings that discussed the issue in details. There are so many incorrect assumptions and hateful allegations in some of the above posts and it is clear that those posts have originated from extremely bitter and angry people. And yes... some of us do know all of the details. Some of us were also on that same trip as a chaperone, some of us had our teens on that same trip - we are not ignorant nor are we blind followers of the leadership. This is a case that needs to be tried in court, not by bitter ex-members who spout out one-sided opinions in a fit of anger. My prayer, along with many others, is that the truth will come out during the trial. And yes "Ex-member", FBCC has had an incredible impact on our community for over 140 years...included here are just a sample of outreach over the past few months: Hundreds of filled backpacks given out to under privileged children, VBS that included over 350 kids from our local Boys and Girls club, sack lunches delivered to Must Ministries for distribution, and continuous support of our orphanage in Cachura, Peru. I will continue to pray for ALL who are involved in this situation and for the truth to be revealed.
Lucy August 13, 2012 at 04:06 AM
There was a formal announcement made last week and today. There also was a meeting that was open to all parents immediately as the kids returned from the summer camp trip 2 years ago, along with another LENGTHY meeting that was open to anyone who had questions, concerns, etc. There were also numerous Deacon meetings that discussed the allegations in details. There are so many incorrect assumptions and hateful allegations in some of the above posts and it is clear that those posts have originated from extremely bitter and angry people. And yes... some of us do know all of the details. Some of us were also on that same trip as a chaperone, some of us had our teens on that same trip - we are not ignorant nor are we blind followers of the leadership. This is a case that needs to be tried in court, not by bitter ex-members who spout out one-sided opinions in a fit of anger. My prayer, along with many others, is that the truth will come out during the trial. And yes "Ex-member", FBCC has had an incredible impact on our community for over 140 years...included here are just a sample of outreach over the past few months: Hundreds of filled backpacks given out to under privileged children, VBS that included over 350 kids from our local Boys and Girls club, sack lunches delivered to Must Ministries for distribution, and continuous support of our orphanage in Cachura, Peru. I will continue to pray for ALL who are involved in this situation and for the truth to be revealed.
Searching for the truth August 13, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Having sat on Cherokee County's grand jury for several months I can tell you that the information presented is always one sided and they won't answer questions if you try to gather details to make an informed decision as to whether to indict. It's pretty much a given that if a case is brought before a grand jury it will be rubber stamped approved. Kind of a kangaroo court environment.
Searching for the truth August 13, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Wrong! The DA simply has to believe he has information he can submit as evidence to gain a conviction. The grand jury hears this and only this information. There is no one to offer contradictory information allowed. It's a one sided process. The jurors selected for jury duty can then choose to vote for or against indictment based on the information presented.
Searching for the truth August 13, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Guess that's why there is a church on every corner. If a handful of members don't like the color of the choir robes it's time to start a new church.
EX-MEMBER August 13, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Searching for the truth - Well let's hear the 'contradictory information' then! So far all we've heard here is the boy's daddy is on a 'cash grab' (sure, that makes sene..) & the boy is 'troubled' and has issues. On the flip side, why would the DA embarass themselves by wasting the court's time without enough evidence to present? It's like you're saying the indictment isn't a big deal because it's not a trial. This is the way our system works. The grand jury is there to halt weak cases before they get to trial. Apparently this case isn't so weak, although I imagine it's extremely difficult to prove allegations like this unless there were witnesses..
Searching for the truth August 13, 2012 at 04:17 PM
While the grand jury "should" be there to halt weak cases, having actually sat on the one in Cherokee County it's an officer or DA presenting a 5 minute case and the jury voting. No discussion of any consequence. The only way to ultimately find out if the case holds water is when BOTH sides present their case before a judge and jury and ALL the facts are presented. Last time I looked there's not a 100% win rate for prosecutors. As for 'contradictory information', that's what the defense will present. If he's guilty then throw the book at him. If not, he's already be tried by people like you in public opinion and is marked for life. Gotta love you people who hold court without all the facts. Reminds me of the old lynch mobs.
John August 13, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Unfortunate comparison to PSU in the legal press...http://www.atlawblog.com/category/cherokee-county-courts/
Searching for the truth August 13, 2012 at 05:08 PM
That's the job of the press.....make news, not report it. Sigh!
EX-MEMBER August 13, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Whose job is it to hire staff at FBC? Sigh! Based on what education, experience, or other qualifications was Sheffield hired to minister to young boys at a critical time in their lives when they're sorting out a lot of issues & are easily influenced by peers? Sigh! Please someone name one personality characteristic, quality or Godly virtue that Sheffield was known for & that you'd want your son to emulate? Sigh! Once it became apparent that Sheffield had a sexting problem, why was he not immediately terminated & why was the church kept in the dark about his issues? Sigh! Why was he continued to be allowed to teach young boys in a room with no other adult supervision? Sigh! What standard of behavior does a youth pastor at FBC have to stoop to in order to lose his job? Sigh! Does he have to actually be convicted of child molestation for Andersonites to concede the horribly bad judgement exercised by GA & co? Sigh! How is insisting a young man with no seminary degree, no experience, & a history of inappropriate sexual comm. with minors be retained as a youth pastor & then later as a 'volunteer' jive with a nurturing environment to mentor godly young men? Sigh! Sheffield is lucky his victims haven't been sons of fathers who frown on this type of thing a little too much to let him off with just a criminal trial & not string him up! Sigh! You who defend GA/Sheffield at all costs are the real enablers here & you are just as guilty, regardless of the trial's outcome! Sigh
Just Wondering August 13, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Hey Ex-member, (Sigh!) you ever get the feeling (sigh!) you are just talking to yourself (sigh!) with all your repeated and baseless ramblings? Sigh! Maybe Candie will pray for you too. Sigh!
CA August 13, 2012 at 09:15 PM
I couldn't have said this any better! Thank you for your truthful & heartfelt comments. I, too, know many of the details & count the young man's parents as sweet friends. I am also torn, not by the allegations against the three men, but the accusations against the precious folks at FBCC that are just as innocent as this young teenager. Most of the people at FBCC are there to worship Christ & for Christian fellowship. These same folks are there to teach others about Christ and His love for us. These people are not involved in this, yet people like ex-member are tearing this precious congregation (parents, young families, children, elderly men & women) to bits over something they took no part in. Again, I'm not referring to the men being charged or to anyone who is/was involved in this terrible situation. There is so much hate on here by disgruntled ex-members & people who do not know the facts. I do not know all the facts, and I guarantee most, if not all, the other posters on this site do not either! Shame on all of you!
EX-MEMBER August 13, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Well, not so much, Just Wondering. Something about knowing there are thousands of EX-MEMBERS in the area who left FBC for 1 reason (GA) & the district attorney's office & 21 grand jury members & the Cherokee County School System & a number of Cherokee HS parents who all have pretty strong feelings about the sheer stupidity and monumental judgement lapses GA, in his narcissistic arrogance, displayed in the Sheffield case make me not feel too lonely.. Are you related to the wackos in Happy Valley who are still defending Paterno & saying Sandusky was just playing around with those kids in the showers & that it's all a 'money grab'? 'Cause you seem to have a similar degree of retardation in your reasoning.. You folks are creepy in your complete willingness to turn a blind eye to predator pervs, while you allow pied pipers like GA to manipulate your ignorance..
Member 1 August 14, 2012 at 12:39 PM
"Bitter ex-mamber" Your estimate of "thousands" that are also ex-members is grossly exaggerated. There are several hundred who have left the church due to their disagreements with the leadership and I pray that they have plugged in to another local church and are spending their energies helping that church grow for Christ rather than continuing to hold on to their anger and bitterness. Over 900 were in attendance at FBCC Worship this past Sunday and before you attack me - No - these numbers aren't exaggerated. I also will add that Brent Sheffield worked with my teens for over 4 years and still remains a good friend of theirs. He never, AT ANY TIME, was inappropriate with them or any of their friends. He did, however, teach them how to grow in their relationship with Christ. I don't say this to continue an argument with you - you clearly have your opinion and that's okay - I say this to let others know that not everyone agrees with your hateful rants and attacks on Mr. Sheffield. Your rage and bitterness is evident in every post and I hope that you will be able to turn this into positive energy for your new church.
Searching for the truth August 14, 2012 at 03:00 PM
And yet when a 4 person elder committee was established providing GA with 1/5 of a vote in decision making people left then as well. It's hard to please some of you.
Dawg August 14, 2012 at 04:57 PM
I repeat what I said above: Maybe it is wise that we all step back, take a breath, let the investigation go forth and wait for the results of the trial.

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