New lawsuit filed against church, former volunteer accused of molesting children

New lawsuit filed against church, former volunteer accused of molesting children
A Dorchester County family filed a lawsuit Tuesday against a North Charleston church and a former volunteer accused of sexually abusing their child. (Source: Live 5)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A Dorchester County family filed a lawsuit Tuesday against a North Charleston church and a former volunteer accused of sexually abusing their child.

The latest suit is at least the fourth against NewSpring Church since former volunteer Jacop Hazlett was accused of sexually abusing children while he helped in the church’s children’s ministry and daycare department.

Parents of a child who was under the age of 4 at the time the abuse allegedly occurred filed the suit naming the church and Hazlett as defendants.

The family alleges that Hazlett was working with the KidSpring children ministry and daycare program at the time of the incident.

The suit alleges negligence against NewSpring, and battery and intentional inflication of emotional distress against the church and Hazlett.

Jacop Hazlett during a court hearing on Wednesday. (Source: Live 5 News)
Jacop Hazlett during a court hearing on Wednesday. (Source: Live 5 News)

Court documents allege NewSpring “either failed to monitor its surveillance system or ignored the sexual abuse perpetuated by Hazlett.” It also accuses the church of failing to properly vet Hazlett before allowing him to volunteer and failing to implement safety protocols and failing to establish or enforce adequate volunteer policies and practices on how children and volunteers should be allowed to interact.

The suit also claims multiple incidents involving molestation of underage youth at different campuses of the church did not result in any new procedures or policies before Hazlett was approved to work with children at the North Charleston campus in March 2018.

The suit claims a NewSpring employee was charged with fondling and kissing a 15-year-old boy at the church’s Florence campus and that a NewSpring volunteer was charged with criminal sexual conduct with a minor and committing a lewd act on a minor after allegedly molesting a 10-year-old boy at the church’s Anderson campus. It also listed a former NewSpring youth pastor and volunteer at the Charleston campus who faced four counts of exploitation of a minor and solicitation of a minor for sex.

The child’s parents say the family has sustained damages in the form of medical expenses for past and future treatment, goods and services until the child victim reaches 18 and have also suffered emotional distress.

The lawsuit requests a jury trial and actual and punitive damages.

Former volunteer faces 14 criminal sexual conduct charges

Hazlett was initially charged with one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor in November. Five counts of sexual exploitation of a minor in the first degree were filed in December, along with eight counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor.

All of the charges are based on crimes he is accused of committing while he was a volunteer at the Ashley Phosphate Road church.

In December, North Charleston Police Maj. Scott Perry said the investigation involved 12 alleged victims.

A lawsuit filed in November by the parents of a boy they say was abused by Hazlett when the child was 3 years old claimed an investigation uncovered 14 separate incidents of sexual abuse involving Hazlett.

Then in February, seven families filed a suit against the church and Hazlett alleging their children were victims. That suit alleges NewSpring Church did not contact the two previous churches Hazlett worked with in North Carolina. If they had done so, the families said, they would have learned that Hazlett was let go “due to red-flags regarding Hazlett’s behavior with kids.”

Hazlett had been prosecuted when he was 17 in 2007 in Columbiana County, Ohio, on a charge of gross sexual imposition. Court documents stated he was accused of having sexual conduct with a child. Hazlett eventually agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of attempted felony assault, which would have been a third-degree felony if had been committed by an adult.

NewSpring Church spokesperson Suzanne Swift said in December 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.

It is not clear why Hazlett’s conviction in Ohio did not show up in the background check NewSpring performed before allowing him to volunteer.

NewSpring Church is based in Anderson and operates 14 church campuses throughout South Carolina. The suit states the church, which the South Carolina Secretary of State describes as a nonprofit organization, collected more than $40 million in tithes in 2017 and owns significant property throughout the state.

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