Taylor Hazlewood, a writer from the United States, posted a photo of himself on Instagram holding a hatchet belonging to a friend as a tribute his favorite childhood novel "Hatchet", a young adult wilderness survival book by Gary Paulsen.
This image is now in a completely different genre.
Mr. Hazlewood has filed a lawsuit against Netflix for the use of his photo in "The Hitchhiker with a Hatchet," a true crime documentary about a hitchhiker who became a convicted murderer. According to the lawsuit filed last week in District Court, Mr. Hazlewood is a Kentucky respiratory therapist who has never been convicted or even associated with a crime.
He has filed a $1 million lawsuit for defamation, and misappropriation of likeness.
When reached by phone Tuesday, Mr. Hazlewood directed requests for comments to his attorney, Angela Buchanan. Ms. Buchanan stated in a press release that "there shouldn't have been any confusion" if Netflix did "its homework."
She said that "Mr. Hazlewood is constantly worried about the impact of the film on his personal life, his job and his reputation.
It is unclear why Mr. Hazlewood from Kentucky filed a suit in Texas against Netflix which has its headquarters in California. Netflix declined to make a comment.
Netflix's documentary on Caleb Lawrence McGillvary, which was released in January, tells the story. Mr. McGillvary hitchhiked in Fresno (California) on February 13, 2013, when the driver who picked him up accidentally struck a utility worker. The driver attacked an innocent bystander for trying to help. McGillvary then took out a hatchet and hit the driver repeatedly with it.
A brief interview with a local TV station turned Mr. McGillvary (who identified himself as Kai) into a hero on the internet and in late-night talk shows: "Kai, the Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker."
McGillvary's trial was held in 2019. He was sentenced to 57-years in prison after he testified he had acted out of self-defense following an attempted sexual assault.
Netflix's documentary features side-by-side photos of Mr. Hazlewood, Mr. McGillvary and a voiceover that reads "stone-cold murderer" with the text from a tweet saying "You can never rely on anyone."
According to the lawsuit filed by Mr. Hazlewood, he first learned about the use the image of the film through a text message from a friend a few weeks after the premiere. Then another friend texted. Next, another friend texted.
Have you seen this?" One friend wrote: "They put your photo up with a killer lol". I'm surprised they didn't request a release. I hope your employer will be okay with this."
One friend said she was watching a "murder documentary" and that they started flashing pictures of people and I told her that it was Hazlewood.
She wrote: "Did someone steal your picture?" How did you get onto there?
A friend's mom asked if there was any connection between Mr. Hazlewood, and Mr. McGillvary.
Netflix is accused of "reputational damage, stress, anxiety and anguish" and of "constantly fearing losing future employment or relationship because people believe he's dangerous or untrustworthy."
Bobbi Miller, host of the "Afternoon Special" pop culture podcast, says that using Mr. Hazlewood’s photo is just one of many examples of true-crime shows cutting corners.
She said, "This is an old song and dance." "There are so many cases where, for the excitement of being the first or having the most compelling story, you don't do the journalistic due-diligence of fact-checking and a triangulation of sources."
Nathaniel Brennan is an adjunct professor at New York University who teaches true crime. He was surprised to hear that Netflix would make a mistake like this, given the "amount of money" they had invested in true-crime shows. He said that the speed of production could have dilute the final product.
He said, "I don’t know if Netflix considers themselves journalists." "I don’t know if Netflix holds themselves to a higher standard."