Man accused of exploiting 12 children at N. Charleston church had 2008 conviction for assaulting Ohio child

He entered guilty plea to attempted felonious assault of child, court records show

VIDEO: Man accused of exploiting 12 children at N. Charleston church previously convicted of assaulting child in Ohio

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The former North Charleston church volunteer who was just charged Tuesday with five additional sexual exploitation counts was prosecuted for an attempted assault 11 years ago in Ohio.

Jacop Hazlett was 17 years old in 2007 when he was charged with gross sexual imposition, according to Columbiana County, Ohio, Juvenile Court Administrator Dane Walton.

Jacop Hazlett, then 18, was booked in the Columbiana County, Ohio, Jail on May. 30, 2008. (Source: Columbiana County Jail)
Jacop Hazlett, then 18, was booked in the Columbiana County, Ohio, Jail on May. 30, 2008. (Source: Columbiana County Jail) (Columbiana County Jail)

Court documents state Hazlett was accused of having sexual contact with a child, specifically kissing and touching a boy between his legs during the 2006-2007 academic year. If the crime had been committed by an adult, it would have constituted a third-degree felony, the records state.

A court filing from June 13, 2008, states that in May of that year, Hazlett, who was by then an adult, appeared before the Columbiana County, Ohio, Court of Common Pleas where the state moved to amend the complaint from a charge of gross sexual imposition to attempted felonious assault, which would also have been considered a third-degree felony if it had been committed by an adult.

Hazlett agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of attempted felony assault, court documents state.

The court sentenced him to six months in the Columbiana County Jail, but that was suspended down to 21 days. Court records indicate he was also granted a furlough so he could attend a graduation ceremony on June 14, 2008. Hazlett’s mother was given permission to take him to the ceremony and was ordered to return him to county jail immediately after it concluded, a court order states.

Hazlett was then placed on two years of probation, Walton said.

Hazlett’s probation was terminated in 2010, court records state.

Hazlett, now 28, faces five new counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor. These charges come in addition to the first charge in November and eight charges of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor filed in early December.

A judge set bond Wednesday morning on each of the new charges at $100,000, for a total of $500,000.

All charges are based on crimes he is accused of while he was a volunteer at NewSpring Church on Ashley Phosphate Road.

North Charleston Police Maj. Scott Perry says the investigation currently includes a total of 12 victims. The newest charges are related to the current case and do not involve any new victims.

Despite conviction in Ohio, Hazlett passed background check, church says

NewSpring Church spokesperson Suzanne Swift said the church performed a background check that included verification of Hazlett’s 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.

"Hazlett successfully completed our volunteer screening process before he was allowed to volunteer," Swift said in a statement.

It is not yet clear why the Ohio conviction or his jail time and probation did not show up on the background check.

Walton said those juvenile records have been eligible for expungement for some time, though it appears that process, which is designed to destroy such records after certain requirements are met, had not taken place.

Mount Pleasant attorney Josh Slavin, who is representing a family of a 3-year-old who was allegedly abused by Hazlett in a lawsuit against the church says the surveillance footage only goes back 90 days, but says additional incidents could have occurred before that 90-day period.

“I want every parent who had a son in that church to reach out for help,” Slavin says. His office could provide concerned parents with guidance so they could at least get peace of mind as the investigation continues, he said.

Perry said Wednesday this will be “a prolonged investigation.”

First Lowcountry charges filed in November

In late November, Hazlett was charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor. Investigators say he escorted a 3-year-old boy into a church bathroom. After the boy used the restroom, investigators say Hazlett performed oral sex on him before pulling the boy’s pants back up.

The act was caught on a surveillance camera positioned outside the hallway. That restroom had a "dutch door," and the bottom half of the door was closed, but the top half was open and recorded the incident, investigators have since explained. The church confirmed there are no cameras inside the restrooms at its facility.

A lawsuit filed on Nov. 28 then claimed NewSpring Church found 14 separate incidents of sexual abuse involving Hazlett and boys in the church daycare bathroom when it reviewed its security camera footage from the past 90 days.

Parents of a 3-year-old boy are suing the church claiming NewSpring failed to properly screen and interview Hazlett before he was brought on and did not enforce adequate policies related to monitoring security footage.

“The reason the church was able to identify 14 victims so quickly is because this was all happening right under their nose on that security camera that is being monitored live," Slavin, who represents the family, said. “They just missed it.”

On Dec. 3, Hazlett was charged with eight new counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor after police questioned him on Nov. 27. During that interview, investigators said Hazlett told police he inappropriately touched and took video as well as photos of numerous children at the church.

Each of those eight affidavits are in connection with eight separate male victims who are either 3 or 4 years old.

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