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, has been sentenced to 75 years in prison after being found guilty of abusing preschool age boys while watching them during the service.
As previously reported, 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 was believed that there were possibly additional victims.
Hazlett was initially charged with one count of first degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor, but additional charges were leveled against him within days. On Aug. 1, a Dorchester County Grand Jury also indicted Hazlett on 10 additional charges, bringing the total number of counts up to 23.
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.
According to local television station WCSC, which reviewed a police affidavit filed in the case, “Hazlett gave an interview to police on Nov. 27, 2018, telling detectives that he inappropriately touched, and took video as well as photos of numerous children at the church. … Hazlett also told police he was sexually attracted to young males and knew his actions were wrong …”
Hazlett had been volunteering in childcare for eight months.
Hazlett was offered a plea deal last month, in which eight of the charges would have been dropped and he would have been sentenced to 50 years in prison. Hazlett rejected the offer and proceeded to trial on Dec. 11 and 12.
He was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to 75 years behind bars. A request from his attorney to call a mistrial was denied, according to WCBD-TV.
“We are grateful justice was served today in this criminal case against Hazlett and are hopeful the verdict will help victims and families in the healing process,” NewSpring Church said in a statement.
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.