Lawsuit: Church worker in toddler sex assault hurt 13 others
Security video from a South Carolina church shows a volunteer who was arrested this week repeatedly abusing young children in a bathroom over the past 90 days, according to a lawyer who expressed fear on Friday that there might be more victims.
Jacop Robert Lee Hazlett, 28, was jailed on a preliminary charge of sexually assaulting a 3-year-old boy as he watched children during worship services last Sunday. A lawsuit filed Wednesday accuses him of attacking at least 13 other children as well.
Church staff apparently did not review the video until a parent came forward with concerns, according to the lawsuit. The video was filmed through a door that was left open to the youngsters’ bathroom at the NewSpring Church in North Charleston, the lawsuit states. It shows Hazlett abusing the children, the complaint says.
“There could be countless victims out there. We only know of 14 from the last 90 days,” said lawyer Joshua Slavin.
More charges are possible, police said.
“We’ve made one charge so far, and the investigation is ongoing with more charges expected,” North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said Friday.
Investigators do not yet know how many children could eventually become part of the criminal case, he said.
Hazlett began volunteering at the church in March, said Slavin, and may have volunteered at a different church in North Carolina before that.
“We’re concerned that there may be victims in North Carolina as well,” he said. “The scope of this is pretty astounding to me.”
At NewSpring, Hazlett supervised the care of 3- and 4-year-old children in a church room called “the Tree House.”
His arrest affidavit says a security camera recording reviewed on Monday showed him abusing a boy in a bathroom the day before.
The lawsuit says video of that 3-year-old, whose family is represented by Slavin, showed Hazlett following the child into the bathroom and assaulting him. He also took pictures of the child’s genitals, the lawsuit states.
No attorneys for Hazlett were listed in court records.
Slavin says his lawsuit is meant to expose the church’s lack of oversight. A live feed from church security cameras is supposed to be monitored by a volunteer, but not until a parent came forward with concerns were the crimes uncovered, Slavin said. The church keeps 90 days’ worth of video from the camera.
Hazlett “can be seen keeping a lookout for approaching adults and looking toward the security camera,” the lawsuit states. “He was aware of the extraordinary risk he was taking had NewSpring Church simply been monitoring the video feed.”
Hazlett had passed a criminal background check and the church acted swiftly on Monday after learning of the allegations, said Suzanne Swift, the church’s communication director.
No additional charges had been filed as of Thursday afternoon. North Charleston police continue to investigate, and wouldn’t comment to the Associated Press on Friday.
Slavin is working with a Pennsylvania law firm that specializes in sex abuse cases, Andreozzi & Associates, P.C. He says they hope families will contact one of the law firms if they suspect their child was among those abused.