Jacop Hazlett, a former volunteer at NewSpring Church in North Charleston, South Carolina, has been sentenced to 75 years in prison for sexual crimes against children. Although accused of assaulting many more, Hazlett has been found guilty of sexual misconduct against four young boys while he was volunteering with NewSpring’s children’s ministry. In statements read at the conclusion of Hazlett’s trial, the victims’ family members expressed how the predator’s actions have devastated them and their children.
“You’re a living example of what evil is,” said a child’s grandfather, according to WBTV News. “This has caused my kids to question their faith, even mine.” One of the fathers said of his son, “He loved going to church, and now he’s terrified.”
The Trial of Jacop Hazlett
A judge heard motions against Jacop Hazlett on Monday, December 9, and trial proceedings continued the following day after a jury was selected. The jury heard testimony Wednesday and came to a verdict on Thursday, December 12. They found Hazlett guilty of the following six charges: first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor, three counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and two counts of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. These are only six of 24 charges levied against Hazlett; the other 18 could be tried at a later time. Also, this trial only concerned four of Hazlett’s 15 identified victims.
Jacop Hazlett, 29, was arrested at the end of November 2018 after some parents told NewSpring Church that he had assaulted their 3-year-old son on the evening of November 25. Hazlett had been watching a group of children all under the age of five. Church leaders then reviewed church security footage, which showed Hazlett taking the boy to the bathroom and performing a sex act on him.
During the trial, prosecutors said Hazlett performed the same sex act on three other boys within one hour. Hazlett’s assaults against all four boys were recorded by the church’s cameras, footage the jury viewed during the trial. According to authorities, one of the children fought back and Hazlett also took photographs of them. In their testimonies, at least four parents identified their children in photographs in which the boys’ genitals were exposed.
NewSpring contacted law enforcement after reviewing the security footage in November. In an interview with detectives, Hazlett admitted that he was sexually attracted to young boys and that he had inappropriately touched children at the church in addition to taking photos of them.
When authorities reviewed church security footage during the three months prior to Hazlett’s arrest, it became apparent that Hazlett had sexually assaulted children at NewSpring at least 14 times during that time frame. Reports say he had been volunteering with the church for at least eight months before his arrest, but the church only keeps video footage for 90 days, so there was no record of any crimes Hazlett might have committed in his first months with NewSpring.
Before the trial, authorities offered Hazlett a plea deal in which he could have avoided a life sentence and received 50 years for admitting to 15 of the charges against him. He refused.
NewSpring Church’s Response
According to WBTV, at least four lawsuits have been filed against NewSpring since the accusations against Hazlett became public. The Post and Courier says that NewSpring, while expressing grief over what has happened, claims it did its due diligence and has “taken every precaution” to protect children from sexual assault.
It is worth noting that since 2016, three other male volunteers with NewSpring (which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and has 14 campuses across South Carolina) have been accused of sexual misconduct with minors. In each case, the church claimed to have conducted “an extensive screening process” and subsequently removed the alleged perpetrators. All three have faced criminal charges.
According to church spokeswoman Suzanne Swift, the church’s screening process includes checking for criminal history, determining if the applicants are registered sex offenders, and verifying their Social Security numbers. It also includes training with the church and a one-on-one interview.
In a statement, NewSpring claimed that Hazlett’s actions happened in spite of church leaders taking all of the precautions within their power. “We know this happened on our watch,” said the church, “and though we have taken great measures over the years to protect our children, evil found a way to breach our best efforts. This devastates us to the core.”