NewSpring Church in South Carolina is fighting back against two lawsuits alleging that lack of church oversight enabled the sexual assaults of at least 14 children at the hands of a former church day care volunteer.
The multicampus megachurch recently issued a public response to a lawsuit filed against it surrounding the arrest of 28-year-old Jacob Hazlett, who had volunteered at the day care of its campus in Charleston for eight months.
Hazlett was caught on camera inappropriately touching a 3-year-old child 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 day care bathroom.
“Such criminal act was not intended or directed by [NewSpring] and could not be foreseen by [NewSpring],” a statement from NewSpring provided to WCIV states. “NewSpring performed a screening process that included a criminal background check that showed no prior records."
Hazlett reportedly admitted to perpetrating the assaults to investigators.
A lawsuit filed by the parent of the 3-year-old abused by Hazlett was submitted late last year and accused the volunteer of performing oral sex on the child.
The church is also accused of failing to adequately supervise and monitor the actions of Hazlett. 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.
But NewSpring argues that it has no responsibility in the matter.
The church 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,” the statement asserts.
NewSpring further argues that its liability as a nonprofit 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 bathroom 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.
According to WCSC, the church 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.
Another lawsuit was brought against the church and Hazlett by seven families earlier this month.
The second lawsuit 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 as a reference before allowing Hazlett to serve there.
Josh Slavin, the attorney representing the families, said he is preparing for the case to go to jury trial.
"To know that they took their children to this church, were required to put their sons in day care to attend Sunday services were told their boys would be safe,” Slavin said, according to ABC4. “Then come to find out 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.