Lawsuit: Church worker in toddler sex assault hurt 13 others
Ninety days of security video showed a South Carolina church volunteer arrested this week repeatedly abusing young children in a bathroom, 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 on Wednesday accuses him of attacking at least 13 other children as well. A police investigation continues.
Church staff reviewed the security video after a parent came forward with concerns. Hazlett was recorded through an open bathroom door, abusing the children at the NewSpring Church in North Charleston, the lawsuit states.
“There could be countless victims out there. We only know of 14 from the last 90 days,” said lawyer Joshua Slavin.
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 monitored by a volunteer, but it wasn’t until a parent came forward with concerns that the crimes were uncovered, Slavin said.
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 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 were 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.