NEW PORT RICHEY — In the fall of 2009, Matthew Sherwood decided he wanted to become a Pentecostal minister. He took a demotion from lead technician at One Call Locators, a utilities locating service in Pinellas County, so he could focus on his studies.
This is when his life became hell — beginning with taunts and ending with hackers turning his Facebook page into a satanic tribute, according to a lawsuit Sherwood, 30, recently filed in Pinellas County against One Call Locators, former co-worker Ronald Jay Wilkinson, 47, and boss Matthew Masi, 30.
Sherwood claims the two men frequently told him:
"Your God is a joke."
"Your Jesus was hung on a cross, that's garbage."
"Christianity and Jesus are fake."
They — for some reason — also took to calling Sherwood a "holy roller turkey caller," court documents state.
Neither Sherwood, of New Port Richey, nor Masi, of St. Petersburg, returned phone calls for this story. Wilkinson, of Hudson, could not be reached.
One Call Locators did not respond for comment.
Sherwood's lawsuit claims both Masi and Wilkinson told him he couldn't do his job and be a minister at the same time. They told him he was "weak for believing in a fairy tale," the suit says.
It got worse.
Sherwood said Wilkinson went through the effort of downloading, copying and delivering to him two DVDs of anti-Christian films. Sherwood said he complained to Masi — their boss — but Masi did nothing.
"Maybe Jay is right," Sherwood says Masi told him.
"Think about it."
The harassment continued to escalate, said Sherwood, who was living at First Assembly of God in New Port Richey. The church's website says Sherwood and his wife, Pam, are on staff as singles pastors. In the suit, Sherwood claims the two men pulled a prank on him by sneaking onto church property, breaking the lock on Sherwood's truck and stealing his work equipment — only later to accuse Sherwood of stealing the equipment himself. When Sherwood insisted on calling the police, the two admitted they did it and said they wanted to teach him a lesson, the documents state.
The bullying spilled onto the Internet. Someone changed Sherwood's Facebook page to read that Sherwood was an atheist and Satan-lover.
His bio said:
"Satan is King. All hail Satan!!! Officially, I am a Satanist... more so I believe in nothing... just myself..."
His favorite books were changed to:
"The Lucifer Effect."
"The Fall of Lucifer."
"The Satanic Verses."
Sherwood heard about the changes from church members, who brought their concerns to the church's senior pastor, the court documents state.
Sherwood claims Wilkinson was the one who put the devil on his Facebook page.
The passwords and security questions had been changed, so it "took a substantial amount of time before Plaintiff was able to convince the authorities at Facebook to remove the page," the lawsuit reads.
After that page was finally removed, another satanic one popped up, Sherwood states.
Because of these "false and defamatory statements, Plaintiff suffered damage personally and to his reputation within his church and community," the documents state.
Sherwood, who has since quit working for One Call Locators, is asking for damages in excess of $15,000 for defamation, invasion of privacy and emotional distress.
He said the bullying caused him:
Loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life.
Loss of dignity.
"The Plaintiff demands a trial by jury," the lawsuit states.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.