CHARLESTON, S.C. — A former volunteer childcare worker at NewSpring Church in South Carolina, a megachurch that has multiple campuses, including in Anderson, Charleston, Columbia and Greenville, faces additional child sex abuse charges after initially being arrested and charged last November.
According to reports, Jacop Hazlett was taken into custody last fall after being accused of molesting a three-year-old boy while escorting him to the restroom at NewSpring Church’s North Charleston location. Children are placed in childcare while Sunday services are underway.
Baptist News Global reports that after staff learned of the alleged incident, they reviewed security footage of the childcare area and discovered numerous incidents where Hazlett had molested boys while taking them to the restroom. As the church only retained videos for 90 days, it is believed that there were possibly additional victims.
Hazlett was initially charged with one count of first degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor, but 13 more charges were leveled against him within days.
On August 1, a Dorchester County Grand Jury indicted Hazlett on 10 additional charges, bringing the total number of counts up to 24.
According to Baptist News Global, Hazlett had been asked in 2002 to leave Cove Church in North Carolina due to concerns about his behavior around children, and staff at Elevation Church had similar concerns about him, disallowing him from working with youth.
Several lawsuits have been filed against NewSpring Church, alleging that it failed to properly vet Hazlett and that leadership failed to train its workers to monitor video cameras, which allowed the abuse to continue.
However, the church argues that it had pre-screened the volunteer and found no prior criminal record. Hazlett had been convicted of sexual abuse years prior, but because he was 17 at the time, the record was sealed.
“Such criminal act was not intended or directed by [NewSpring] and could not be foreseen by [NewSpring],” it said in response to one lawsuit filed by seven families, according to local television station WCIV. “NewSpring performed a screening process that included a criminal background check that showed no prior records.”
However, one lawsuit filed in February asserts that “[u]pon information and belief, when Hazlett arrived at NewSpring, the church did not contact [either of his past churches] for a reference.”
Another lawsuit was filed in May, to which NewSpring church responded similarly, stating that when it became aware of alleged inappropriate conduct, the video footage was promptly reviewed and “NewSpring Church immediately notified law enforcement, took steps to prevent Defendant Hazlett from volunteering in any capacity, and continues to fully cooperate with law enforcement’s ongoing investigation.”
Hazlett had been volunteering in childcare for eight months.
NewsSpring is a contemporary megachurch, formerly led by Perry Noble, who was fired in 2016 due to alcohol abuse. Online videos from attendees at the Charleston campus show live covers of secular music in addition to worship songs, from Led Zeppelin to Coldplay to Fall Out Boy.