Man caught sexually abusing child at church had more than a dozen victims, lawsuit says

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The family of a 3-year-old boy, who was caught on camera being sexually abused by a church volunteer inside the church, has filed a civil lawsuit against the church and the suspect charged in the case.

The lawsuit was filed in Dorchester County court on Wednesday and lists NewSpring Church and volunteer Jacop Robert Lee Hazlett as the plaintiffs. The court filing also claims that there are more than a dozen victims.

The lawsuit comes after police released information in a separate disturbing case against Hazlett.

On Nov. 25, Jacop Robert Lee Hazlett was serving as a volunteer at NewSpring Church supervising children ages 3 to 5, North Charleston authorities said.

Warning: The details below are disturbing in nature

Hazlett took the victim to the bathroom, where he helped the 3-year-old pull down his pants and underwear before the child sat on the toilet, authorities said. 

Hazlett then sexually abused the child, police said. 

North Charleston authorities said the incident was captured on surveillance footage.

He is charged with criminal sexual conduct with a minor in the first degree.

The lawsuit focuses on another incident that occurred on Sept. 30 in the bathroom of the 3 and 4-year-old room at the church. The filing does not say that this child is the same one involved in the Nov. 25 case.

According to the lawsuit, NewSpring Church reviewed its security camera footage, which only goes back 90 days, and “found fourteen separate incidents where Jacop Hazlett sexually abused boys in the three-to-four-year-old day care room bathroom.”

The filing explains how the abuse was captured on camera.

“The security camera in the child day-care room…is positioned so that it captures footage of the entire room, including the children’s bathroom.”

The bathroom door has a lower half that closes and an upper half that stays open when children use the bathroom. The camera captures video from inside the bathroom, including the toilet and the live-feed footage is monitored by a volunteer staff member, according to documents.

In the Sept. 30 case, Hazlett is accused of taking similar actions as the Nov. 25 case. Surveillance footage reportedly showed Hazlett taking a 3-year-old boy to the bathroom, where he then allegedly took pictures of the boy’s exposed genitalia and inappropriately touched the child. The abuse lasted approximately three minutes, according to the filing.

“Throughout the sexual abuse, Jacop Hazlett can be seen keeping a lookout for approaching adults and looking towards the security camera,” the lawsuit reads.

The mother and father of the boy “were informed of the sexual assault of their son on or about” Tuesday.

The lawsuit states that boy’s parents “had noticed changes in [their child’s] behavior, including him screaming that he did not want to go to NewSpring Church or its daycare.”

The court filing claims that the child “has suffered, and upon information and belief will continue to suffer, severe and ongoing psychological/psychiatric injury,” and also says that the parents have also suffered psychological and psychiatric injury.

The filing claims that NewSpring Church operates 14 campuses around South Carolina and received at least $40 million in tithes and donations in 2017.

The lawsuit does not specify an amount of money that the family is seeking, but says that they “pray for a judgment against Defendants for actual damages, punitive damages, costs of this action, and such other and further relief as the court and jury shall deem just and proper.”

NewSpring released a statement Wednesday about Hazlett’s arrest which read in part:

“Once we were made aware, we reviewed video footage from the past 90 days in which Hazlett served as a Kidspring volunteer. In the videos, it appears there was inappropriate conduct by Hazlett.”

The church then alerted authorities and is cooperating with law enforcement’s ongoing investigation.

“As a part of NewSpring’s child safety and security program, we perform criminal background checks, interview each potential volunteer candidate one-on-one, and provide detailed training for volunteers serving with children of all ages.”

Hazlett passed the church’s background check.

An email sent by the family’s attorney, Joshua E. Slavin, wrote that “the purpose of the civil lawsuit is to expose the blatant oversights by NewSpring Church which allowed Hazlett to abuse countless innocent children. 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.”

Slavin continued, “The total number of children victimized by Hazlett may never be known. We strongly encourage all parents of children who were supervised by Hazlett to come forward and share whatever information they have to protect their children, ensure that all those responsible for allowing this to happen are held  accountable, and help to prevent a tragedy like this from happening in the future.”

Hazlett appeared in court Wednesday.

As of Thursday morning, the church had not addressed the lawsuit.

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