The former North Charleston church volunteer who stands accused of sexually assaulting at least 14 children over a three-month span is now facing additional criminal charges, court documents show.
Jacop Robert Lee Hazlett, 28, of Proximity Drive in West Ashley, 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 was initially charged with one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor younger than 11 years old. Authorities have since added a second count of that offense and also charged him with seven counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor, according to arrest affidavits.
On Nov. 26, staff at the church said they became aware of "a concern" involving Hazlett, according to a letter sent home to parents of preschool children who attend the church's North Charleston location. That concern, an affidavit states, was raise by a child's parents who told staff that their 4-year-old son was sexually assaulted by Hazlett in the bathroom of the day care.
In response, church staff reviewed surveillance footage from a camera adjacent to the bathroom. What they found, according to an affidavit, were "numerous" documented instances of assault. The footage, however, only dates back to September. After that review of the footage, according to the letter, Hazlett was removed from his volunteer post at NewSpring and reported to law enforcement, NewSpring spokeswoman Suzanne Swift said on Nov. 29, adding that staff were fully cooperating in the investigation.
"We want our NewSpring family to know that as the leaders of this church we are gutted by these events. We know this happened on our watch, and though we have taken great measures over the years to protect our children, evil found a way to breach our best efforts," according to a statement distributed to the NewSpring congregation by church leaders. "This devastates us to the core. We are heartbroken for the families directly impacted, our volunteers who serve with KidSpring, and for all of the families who trust us each week to care for their children."
On Nov. 27, detectives with the North Charleston Police Department interviewed Hazlett at the station. The day care volunteer told investigators in an interview that he photographed and filmed several of the assaults, court documents show.
Beyond the criminal charges, multiple civil investigations were launched in the days following the disclosure of the alleged sexual abuse.
Hazlett was named as the defendant in a pending civil suit that was filed Nov. 28 in Dorchester County's Court of Common Pleas. The complaint, which characterized the assaults as "preventable," alleged that at least 14 children were sexually battered by Hazlett. The complaint was filed by attorney Joshua E. Slavin, an attorney representing one of the victims' families.
The suit also points out NewSpring's hiring of Caleb Lide Jordan, who was a youth pastor and student ministry director from August 2011 to September 2015, according to Jordan's LinkedIn page. Swift said that Jordan was last employed by the church in April 2017 but worked as a volunteer until he was arrested and charged in February with soliciting a minor for sex. Church staff have said that the incident in question did not involve the church.
Additionally, Charleston-based attorneys David Yarborough and William Applegate said through a representative that they, too, have been contacted by victims and are taking a closer look at the church's pre-employment screening processes, though they have not filed a complaint in any court as of Monday afternoon. Mount Pleasant attorney Charlie Condon said Monday he and his team are also investigating the church's screening practices and is representing the family of a victim.
"One of our greatest areas of concern is NewSpring’s negligence in these cases," Applegate said in a statement. "There have been many questions raised about the institutional failures that created an environment for child sexual abuse to occur repeatedly."
Church officials previously told The Post and Courier they stood by their employee and volunteer screening procedures, which include searches of criminal history and national sex offender databases.
"We have many policies in place that have provided safe environments for children the last 19 years. The events in (North Charleston), though, have shown us that it was possible for evil to find a way to breach our protection," the church said in the statement to worshipers. "We believe our current policies and procedures are strong, but as we move forward, we will install more measures and do whatever it takes to increase our ability to provide a safe church experience for children."
No attorney for Hazlett was listed in court records as of late Monday 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.