A new civil lawsuit filed in North Charleston, South Carolina accuses NewSpring Church of failing to prevent the widespread sexual abuse of children. NewSpring now faces two civil lawsuits linked to the alleged sexual abuse of Jacop Hazlett, a 28-year-old who volunteered for the megachurch's child care program.
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Jacop Hazlett already faces criminal charges for his alleged misconduct. He has been charged with 14 counts of first- and third-degree child sexual abuse by prosecutors working with the North Charleston Police Department, including nine counts of criminal sexual conduct with a minor and five counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.
And the evidence against Hazlett and the church is mounting. Officials say they are in possession of video tapes, taken from NewSpring's surveillance system, that show Hazlett molesting at least 14 children between September and November of 2018.
Hazlett had been volunteering at the church, and working closely with children, since March 2018, but NewSpring representatives say the church's security cameras only store footage for 90 days. Thus he may have abused many other children, but there is no video evidence of misconduct going back to before September.
He was initially turned in after a parent reported to NewSpring Church on November 26, 2018 that her 3-year-old son told her he was molested in the bathroom of the children's ministry, which is referred to as "the Tree House." Staff from the church reviewed surveillance footage of the area and saw Hazlett molesting multiple children after he escorted them to the bathroom. He can also be seen recording some of the incidents with his cellphone.
Police officials say Hazlett has now admitted to his crimes. According to police, the man confessed to knowing that what he was doing was wrong, but having an uncontrollable sexual attraction to male children.
Why didn't NewSpring catch Jacop Hazlett in the act? That is the central question raised by two new civil lawsuits, including a claim filed in Dorchester County court in November of 2018. In court documents, parents from two families affected by the scandal accuse NewSpring of failing to out Hazlett as a child molester, despite extensive surveillance video footage of his crimes. "Although the church defendants had live video feeds from the surveillance cameras in the video room, the security team either failed to monitor the live feeds or ignored the abuse that played out on the screens," plaintiffs write.
Police officials say Hazlett videotaped several of his assaults, hence the sexual exploitation of a minor charges he faces. There is also evidence that Hazlett has a past history of child sexual abuse. While NewSpring says Hazlett passed a background check, it's unclear how the check missed a 2007 conviction for felony assault.
Court documents obtained by ABC News 4 show that, in 2007, Hazlett, then 17, was charged for molesting a 13-year-old boy. He was charged as a juvenile delinquent, and prosecutors agreed to drop the sex crime charges in exchange for a guilty plea to attempted felony assault. He served 21 days in jail. And police officials in North Carolina say Hazlett is a person of interest in an abuse case involving a 7-year-old boy, the investigation of which is ongoing.
Somehow, NewSpring's background check missed these warning signs, even though the process includes "verification of Social Security number, address history, National Criminal Database Search, National Sex Offender Search and re-verification of no records of criminal convictions or use of aliases."
NewSpring spokesperson Suzanne Swift says it's not the church's fault. "The background check we performed on Hazlett was returned to us with no records found," the spokeswoman told ABC News 4. "We had no knowledge of Hazlett's sealed juvenile records."
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