Another texted from Virginia: “Why are you on Netflix?”
A former co-worker living in Ohio: “They put your picture up with a murderer lol.”
Hazlewood, a 27-year-old respiratory therapist who lives in Kentucky, was confused. But he soon discovered that a photo of him posing with a hatchet more than 3½ years earlier had been used in the documentary “The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker.” On April 10, Hazlewood sued Netflix in Texas state court, accusing the company of defamation and misappropriating his likeness by including the photo in the 1½-hour film that traces the path of Caleb “Kai” McGillvary from hero and internet darling to convicted murderer — none of which has ever had anything to do with Hazlewood.
Hazlewood is seeking at least $1 million in damages.
“Hazlewood is, of course, beyond angry that Netflix would implicate and connect him to such a salacious and infamous story and individual,” the lawsuit states.
Netflix did not immediately respond Sunday to a request for comment from The Washington Post.
The documentary streaming on Netflix comes a decade after McGillvary was catapulted to internet stardom. In early February 2013, he was hitchhiking his way through Fresno, Calif., when Jett McBride, the man giving him a lift, rammed his car into a utility worker, pinning him against a truck, KFSN reported. McBride then attacked a woman when she tried to intervene. Afraid he might “snap her neck like a pencil,” McGillvary said he took a hatchet from his bag and repeatedly hit McBride in the head. (In 2014, McBride was convicted of two counts of assault with a deadly weapon for attacking the utility worker and the woman, and a judge committed him to a state hospital for nine years.)
Later that day, McGillvary spoke with a KMPH reporter for an interview, in which he stared into the camera to tell viewers that every one of them deserved love and respect before pivoting to a harrowing account in which he said he bludgeoned a man with a hatchet to stop him from killing others. Video of the interview went viral and has been viewed 8.2 million times over the past decade.
The interview made McGillvary famous overnight. Countless remixes of it were made. He went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” With an entry on the “Know Your Meme” website, he remains a part of internet lore.
Three months later, McGillvary had made his way across the country when he was arrested and accused of killing New Jersey attorney Joseph Galfy. Although McGillvary claimed he killed Galfy in self-defense, he was convicted of first-degree murder in 2019 and sentenced to 57 years in prison.
In February, McGillvary sued Netflix and several other defendants in federal court, accusing the company of “ruthlessly exploiting a hero’s life story for money” by releasing a documentary about him, the Fresno Bee reported. The case, in which McGillvary is seeking more than $1.3 million, is still working its way through the U.S. District Court of Central California.
Meanwhile, Hazlewood was living in Kentucky, mostly if not entirely unaware of McGillvary. In June 2019, he was hanging out with a friend when he spotted his buddy’s hatchet, his lawsuit states. Reminded of his favorite childhood book, “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen, Hazlewood held it and posed for a photo, which he posted to Instagram.
For more than 3½ years, not many people beyond his hundreds of followers saw it, according to the suit.
Then, on Jan. 10, Netflix released the documentary about McGillvary, and about a week later, the texts started pouring in, the suit alleges. Hazlewood has since had to explain to friends, family members, co-workers and acquaintances that he had nothing to do with what happened.
Still, thousands — if not millions — of people will see his photo as a narrator speaks of a “stone-cold killer” and text pops up next to the image: “You can never trust anyone,” the suit says.
“That’s going to go on for the rest of his life,” Hazlewood’s attorney, Angela Buchanan, told The Post.
Buchanan said Hazlewood is suing Netflix to vindicate himself, not only to friends and family who have asked him about the situation, but also to those who don’t know him as well and may not feel comfortable broaching the subject. He also wants to prevent the same thing from happening to someone else.
“He wants to hold them accountable,” Buchanan said.