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.


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."

Stay with Canton-Sixes Patch for updates on this breaking news story.

Don’t miss any of the local news you care about. Subscribe to Canton-Sixes Patch’s free newsletterlike us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »