A former church volunteer allegedly caught on security video last year molesting preschoolers in a bathroom at a South Carolina megachurch faces new charges in a grand jury indictment handed down Aug. 1.
Jacop Hazlett, arrested last November for allegedly sexually abusing a 3-year-old boy at the Charleston campus of the multi-site NewSpring Church, faces 10 new charges of sexual exploitation of and criminal sexual conduct with a minor.
The charges relate to five newly identified alleged victims, raising the total number to 15. Hazlett now faces a total of 23 indictments.
While watching a group of preschoolers on Nov. 25 last year, Hazlett allegedly escorted a 3-year-old to the bathroom, where he sexually assaulted him. After learning of the allegation, church leaders reviewed security camera footage monitoring the day-care area and found 14 separate incidents where Hazlett allegedly molested boys in the children’s bathroom.
Authorities at the time said there might be other victims, because the church only kept archived video for 90 days.
NewSpring Church, a multi-site megachurch started in 2000 as a church plant by the South Carolina Baptist Convention, faces multiple lawsuits in connection with the alleged crimes.
The most recent, filed May 21 in the Charleston County Court of Common Pleas, claims NewSpring Church failed to properly vet Hazlett, adhere to safety protocols or adequately train and supervise employees and volunteers.
In an answer filed June 19, church lawyers said NewSpring performed a screening process that included a criminal background check and one interview before permitting Hazlett to go through training and volunteer.
After discovering evidence of inappropriate conduct, the attorneys said, NewSpring Church immediately notified law enforcement and continues to cooperate with the police investigation.
While the church says Hazlett’s background check revealed no previous arrests, he was charged in 2007 as a 17-year-old with gross sexual imposition in Ohio. He pleaded guilty to a lesser crime, and because he was a minor his court record was sealed.
Hazlett grew up in Ohio before relocating to the Charlotte, North Carolina, area in 2010. While there he coached youth football and volunteered at Cove Church and Elevation Church, two megachurches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Hazlett was reportedly asked to leave Cove Church in 2012 due to concerns about his behavior around children and was moved by Elevation Church to an administrative role with no direct contact with children because church leaders there had an “uneasy feeling” about how he interacted with kids.
The Southern Baptist Convention has been in the abuse spotlight since newspaper articles in February found hundreds of abusers and victims within 47,000 Southern Baptist churches that govern themselves independently while voluntarily cooperating to support missions, theological education, ministerial retirement and insurance plans and numerous other ventures.
A decade ago the denomination studied the possibility of establishing a database of convicted, confessed or credibly accused sex offenders to make it harder for predators to move from church to church but rejected the idea, citing the doctrine of local-church autonomy.