Crime & Courts

SC megachurch says it’s not to blame for volunteer accused of sexual abuse, records show

Jacop Hazlett was arrested for sexually abusing a little boy at NewSpring in Charleston, and both he and the S.C. megachurch are named in a lawsuit.
Jacop Hazlett was arrested for sexually abusing a little boy at NewSpring in Charleston, and both he and the S.C. megachurch are named in a lawsuit. Dorchester County Detention Center

A South Carolina megachurch said the actions of a volunteer charged with sexually abusing a minor are not its responsibility.

NewSpring Church Inc. and Jacop Hazlett were both named as defendants in a lawsuit filed in November 2018, days after Hazlett was arrested and charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor under 11 years old, The State previously reported.

On Wednesday, court documents including NewSpring’s response to the lawsuit were made public.

Such criminal act was not intended or directed by (NewSpring) and could not be foreseen by (NewSpring),” the megachurch said in its response, according to WCIV. “NewSpring performed a screening process that included a criminal background check that showed no prior records.”

The megachurch said the lawsuit should be dismissed, WCSC reported. NewSpring added it’s not liable for Hazlett’s actions because he was a volunteer at its North Charleston campus, which it said should be considered a non-profit and shielded by the “provisions of the Volunteer Protection Act,” according to the TV station.

Hazlett was arrested Nov. 28 for sexually abusing a 3-year-old boy inside the church, The State reported. On Dec. 3, more criminal charges were filed against Hazlett, who has a history of abuse, according to the newspaper.

Investigators said the 28-year-old Hazlett “admitted to the assaults,” WCIV reported.

The lawsuit says NewSpring did not monitor the daycare appropriately. “Jacop Hazlett knew of the security camera and its ability to see into the bathroom, meaning he was aware of the extraordinary risk he was taking had NewSpring Church simply been monitoring the video feed,” the court filing said.

The plaintiffs, who are not named in the lawsuit, are seeking unspecified amount of damages from NewSpring and Hazlett, according to the court documents.

The attorney representing the family that filed the lawsuit said there could be more than the 14 victims cited, WCSC previously reported.

“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,” Josh Slavin said in November, according to the TV station. “There could be countless more victims that we just don’t know more about yet.”

According to the lawsuit, the church keeps video footage going back 90 days. The lawsuit alleges the surveillance video showed Hazlett taking the boy to the bathroom, taking pictures of his genitalia and sexually assaulting him.

NewSpring has 14 church campuses around South Carolina, according to the church’s website. The lawsuit notes that the church collected more than $40 million in donations, the lawsuit notes.

Miracle Balsitis and Amanda Johnson talk about why it was important to remove a photo of their father, Lane Hurley, from a wall at Matthews United Methodist Church. Hurley was convicted of sexually abusing his niece.

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Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State and McClatchy Carolinas Regional Team. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.

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