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Lawsuit: At least 14 kids abused at hands of North Charleston church volunteer

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Jacop Hazlett

Jacop Hazlett. Provided

A day after a North Charleston church volunteer was charged with sexually assaulting a 3-year-old boy, a new lawsuit alleges that at least 13 other children were sexually assaulted by the same man over a three-month span.

Jacop Robert Lee Hazlett, 28, of Proximity Drive in West Ashley, faces one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor under 11 years old, according to his arrest affidavit and court records. Hazlett had worked as a volunteer chaperone and day care provider since March for NewSpring Church, located at 5101 Ashley Phosphate Road, supervising children ages 3 to 5 in a room called "the Tree House."

Hazlett's hiring came on the heels of another NewSpring Church associate, Caleb Lide Jordan, being ousted after he was charged with soliciting sex with a minor. That incident did not involve the church, and "any issues with Jordan have nothing to do with NewSpring," Suzanne Swift, a spokeswoman for NewSpring Church, said in a statement. Jordan was removed from his volunteer role after his arrest in February.

The new complaint, which lists both the church and Hazlett as defendants and seeks unspecified damages, was filed Wednesday in the Court of Common Pleas in Dorchester County and provided to The Post and Courier by Joshua E. Slavin, an attorney representing the young boy's family.

Church officials were made aware of the initial incident on Monday when someone brought it to their attention that there was "a concern" involving Hazlett, according to a letter sent to parents of the preschool children who attend the church's North Charleston campus.

“While the criminal justice system will address Hazlett’s alleged crimes, the purpose of the civil lawsuit is to expose the blatant oversights by NewSpring Church," Slavin said in an email. "What makes this case so tragic is that the abuse was entirely preventable — these crimes were repeatedly committed in front of security cameras that were monitored by NewSpring Church.”

Staff at the church reviewed surveillance footage, which stores video from the past 90 days, after the initial concern was brought to their attention. In video footage from Nov. 25, staff observed Hazlett escort the 3-year-old into the restroom and assault him. While there are no security cameras in the bathroom, the interior is visible to security cameras if the door is open, Swift said. 

After that review of the footage, according to the letter, church staff moved to prevent Hazlett from "volunteering in any capacity" and reported their findings to police. Swift said Wednesday that staff are fully cooperating with law enforcement.

During that same review of the security footage, officials said they identified 14 separate incidents — involving 14 children — in which Hazlett allegedly sexually abused young boys in the same bathroom. In one instance, Hazlett led one of the boys into the bathroom, took inappropriate photos of the child and assaulted him, according to the lawsuit.

No additional criminal charges had been filed against Hazlett as of Thursday afternoon.

"The video footage of Jacop Hazlett's abuse of other boys is substantially similar," the suit states.

Prior to being employed, however, church officials said Hazlett completed a "detailed training" and passed a screening process that included searches of criminal history and national sex offender databases. 

"We stand by this process but are willing to make changes should they be warranted," Swift said in a statement. "We are in regular communication with, and are providing our full cooperation to law enforcement, evaluating our processes and procedures internally, and we will be inviting in an external expert to help us determine if any changes need to be made to help ensure something like this does not happen again."

State Law Enforcement Division records did not indicate any prior arrests or convictions for Hazlett.

No attorneys for the church or for Hazlett were listed in court records as of late Thursday afternoon.

Church officials stated that anyone who believes their child may have had inappropriate interactions with Hazlett should call North Charleston Police Officer Paul Schoolfield at 843-740-2521 or NewSpring’s Charleston Campus Pastor Ryan Kirkland at 803-413-8422.

Reach Michael Majchrowicz at 843-937-5591. Follow him on Twitter @mjmajchrowicz.

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