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Jacksonville pastor charged in Maryland sexual abuse case

Suspect's blog says he's an associate pastor at a Jacksonville church

Suspect's blog says he's an associate pastor at a Jacksonville church.
Suspect's blog says he's an associate pastor at a Jacksonville church.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Clay County man faces charges in the 2007 sexual abuse of a Maryland woman while she was a student at a Baltimore-area school and church where he worked as a pastor.

Cameron Shane Giovanelli, 42, of Orange Park, was released Tuesday on his own recognizance following his arrest on charges of sexual abuse of a minor, perverted practice and fourth-degree sexual offense. He was ordered to have no contact with minors and is expected in court on Aug. 30.

The charges stem from a complaint filed by a former Calvary Baptist School student who also babysat for Giovanelli while she was in high school. She came forward in May 2018, saying the abuse began she was 17 and carried on for several months – until it was halted by another pastor’s intervention.

Attempts to reach Giovanelli for comment Thursday were unsuccessful. No one answered the door at an address listed for him. In a now-deleted statement reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he denied the allegations, calling his accuser a “liar” seeking to “destroy my reputation.”

An attorney who represents Giovanelli said his client categorically denies the allegations.

Giovanelli, whose personal website describes him as an associate pastor for Immanuel Baptist Church on Normandy Boulevard in Jacksonville, was previously named in a Star-Telegram investigation published in December 2018, the same month his accuser posted an open letter to him online.

As a policy, News4Jax does not name victims of sex crimes, but the decision was made to do so in this case because the accuser has gone public with her allegations. On Tuesday, Sarah Jackson posted an emotional reaction on Twitter to the news of Giovanelli’s arrest.

"(Fifteen) months. 455 days. I have cried. I have prayed. I have watched my character, integrity and my family be shredded for speaking up,” Jackson tweeted. “Today, God's timing was revealed. Today, Cameron Giovanelli was arrested for sexually abusing me in high school.”

Jackson’s allegations are detailed in Giovanelli’s arrest warrant. She told police what started with flirting through text messages in late 2006 became physical in Jan. 3, 2007, when she returned from Christmas Break. She said she was pulled out of his wife’s class that day and brought to an upstairs office at the church where Giovanelli wanted “to teach her how to kiss.” Soon, she said, sneaking away with him became an “everyday thing” as kissing escalated into oral sex “several times a week.” 

According to the warrant, Jackson recalled two incidents at her grandparents’ home, located not far from the school’s Dundalk campus. She said the first time they went to the basement and where they did “everything but sex.” The next time, another pastor who had grown increasingly suspicious of how much time the pair spent together followed Giovanelli after he left school and intervened. She said he told them whatever was going on “needs to stop.”

The second pastor, whose name was redacted from the warrant, agreed to speak with police as part of the investigation. He remembered confronting Giovanelli that day, but said he was both “overwhelmed” by the situation and unsure of what to do. At the time, he told police, he did not do anything about it, a decision he has come to regret. He also recalled getting an email from Giovanelli that night thanking him for “saving his life and saving his ministry.”

Stacey Shiflett, a senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, was at first stunned by the allegations.

"When she said what she said, I couldn’t believe it. Didn’t want to believe it," Shiflett told News4Jax. "But I’ve been around long enough to know that you can’t just always side with your friend, so I began an internal review, began asking staff members and church members about her allegations.

"I said, 'Can there be any truth to this?' and the more people I talked to, the more I was able to corroborate her story to the point to where my deacons and I, after talking with her and her husband at great length, we all concluded that her story was credible.”

Shiflett found the allegations troubling enough that he reached out to Pastor Greg Neal of Immanuel Baptist Church after learning that Giovanelli was applying for a job there. “I told him that you cannot let him come to your church and put him on staff,” he said. “I said, ‘He could be arrested one day and go to jail.’ We talked for nearly an hour and he disregarded my advice.”

News4Jax could not reach Pastor Neal for comment Thursday. Incidentally, Neal was accused of secretly videotaping women changing clothes using a hidden camera at Berean Baptist Church in 2001. A 2011 investigation into the allegations found a crime occurred, but the case was closed because the statute of limitations had expired and Neal, who was uncooperative, was not prosecuted.

In light of Jackson’s complaint, police are asking anyone with information relevant to the case to come forward because they suspect there might be more victims. That’s a possibility that Shiflett would not rule out, especially since other women have shared troubling stories with him.

"There was a pattern of behavior that was established in these people that were coming to me and these other women that were coming to me," he said. "Many of them didn’t know each otherb but they were telling me the same things. The MO was identical and the things he would say to them was identical.”

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call Baltimore County Police at 410-853-3650.

About the Authors:

A Florida transplant with Midwest roots, Garrett Pelican is the digital executive producer for News4Jax.

Reports weeknights for The Ten O'Clock News and News4Jax at 11.