A South Carolina megachurch is under scrutiny after the arrest of a church volunteer reportedly caught on security video molesting 14 preschoolers in the last three months.
Police in North Charleston, South Carolina, arrested Jacop Robert Lee “Jake” Hazlett, 28, on a charge of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor on Nov. 27.
Investigators say he molested a 3-year-old boy in a bathroom at the Charleston campus of NewSpring Church — a multi-site congregation with an average weekly attendance of 20,000 in 14 campuses across the state of South Carolina – during Sunday services on Sept. 30.
After learning of the alleged incident Nov. 26, church leaders reviewed security camera footage monitoring the day care area for 3 and 4 year-olds and found 14 separate incidents where Hazlett allegedly abused boys, according to a civil lawsuit filed Nov. 28.
Because the church stores security camera footage for just 90 days, the suit says, it is unknown how many additional alleged victims there might be since Hazlett began working with kids in March 2018.
On Friday police added eight counts of child sexual abuse against Hazlett after he reportedly admitted to “inappropriately touching numerous children” while volunteering at NewSpring Church.
Hazlett previously attended The Cove Church in Mooresville, North Carolina, another multi-site congregation affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Police in Davidson, North Carolina, said Tuesday they are investigating Hazlett about allegations in their jurisdiction involving a 7-year-old boy.
The lawsuit accuses NewSpring Church of negligence and recklessness in its screening, training and supervision of volunteers.
A statement on the church website said leaders believe NewSpring’s current child-protection policies and procedures are strong, but “somehow, Hazlett’s independent and individual acts were missed as they happened.”
NewSpring Church started out in 1999 as a new church startup aided by funds from the South Carolina Baptist Convention. While the church is commonly described as non-denominational, the Southern Baptist Convention lists all 14 campuses in an online directory of Southern Baptist churches.
Its founding pastor, Perry Noble, was fired in 2016 for alcohol abuse. Last December he launched an online ministry called Second Chance Church, which now has a brick-and-mortar building set to open Jan. 13.
Hazlett’s next court appearance is scheduled Jan. 14. If convicted he could face a penalty of 25 years to life in prison.
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