IN the wake of the the arrest last year of Jacob Hazlett, inset above, for molesting children at NewSpring Church in South Carolina, the multicampus megachurch has been hit with two lawsuits alleging that it had ‘enabled’ the abuse.
Hazlett was caught on camera inappropriately touching a 3-year-old boy and was arrested last November.
He has since been charged with 14 counts of first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor. Church security footage that goes back as far as 90 days showed instances of Hazlett assaulting children in the church’s day care toilet.
NewSpring reponded to the first lawsuit by saying:
Such criminal act was not intended or directed by [NewSpring] and could not be foreseen by [NewSpring]. NewSpring performed a screening process that included a criminal background check that showed no prior records.
The lawsuit, filed by the family of Hazlett’s 3-year-old victim was submitted at the beginning of last December and accused the volunteer of performing oral sex on the child.
The church is also accused of failing to adequately supervise and monitor Hazlett’s actions. The lawsuit claims that lack of oversight allowed the abuse to occur inside the church even though there are around 40 surveillance cameras monitored by church volunteers.
NewSpring argues that it has no responsibility in the matter. It contends that when concerns about Hazlett were made, it took the appropriate response and called authorities.
NewSpring immediately notified law enforcement, took steps to prevent Hazlett from volunteering in any capacity, and continues to fully cooperate with law enforcement’s ongoing investigation.
NewSpring further argues that its liability as a non-profit in this case is limited because of the South Carolina Charitable Funds Act. Additionally, the church stresses that since Hazlett was a volunteer, its liability is limited by the “Volunteer Protection Act of 1997.”
The lawsuit stresses that Hazlett knew that there was a security camera near the toilet where he committed the crimes and was:
Aware of the extraordinary risk he was taking had NewSpring Church simply been monitoring the video feed.
The church, however, maintains that it is not liable for punitive damages, and argues that the facts aren’t enough to pursue a lawsuit against the church itself and that the plaintiff’s lawsuit against the church should be tossed out.
The second lawsuit was brought against the church and Hazlett by seven families earlier this month.
It states that Hazlett volunteered at Cove Church and Elevation Church in North Carolina from 2011 to 2014 but was asked to leave both places of worship because of concerns about his behavior around children.
The lawsuit blames NewSpring for not contacting either church before allowing Hazlett to do volunteer work.
Josh Slavin, the attorney representing the families, said he is preparing for the case to go to jury trial. He alleged that:
There was rampant abuse happening week in, week out right under New Spring Church’s noses.
Slavin said that to not get justice and “consequences for those who allowed this to happen” would be “unthinkable.”
NewSpring has not yet responded to the second lawsuit.