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NewSpring Church — a fourteen campus megachurch pastored by Brad Cooper, Clayton King, and Dan Lian — located in Anderson, South Carolina has a bit of problem on its hands; one that church leaders are desperately trying to explain away. (NewSpring was previously pastored by Perry Noble. Noble was fired in July 2016 due to alcohol abuse and neglecting his family. In 2017, Noble and his wife divorced.)
According to a bombshell news story by The Post and Courier, NewSpring has had FOUR alleged sexual predators in their midst over the past three years. Yet, NewSpring refuses to take responsibility for their culpability in the matter.
After telling detectives in November that he had sexually assaulted young boys in the North Charleston church where he volunteered, Jacob [Jake] Hazlett made another troubling revelation: this wasn’t the first time.
As a teen in Ohio, Hazlett had been jailed for molesting a younger boy. And when he later moved to North Carolina and began volunteering in churches there, his interactions with young people drew concerns from two congregations he joined, according to a recent lawsuit.
NewSpring Church leaders insist they knew none of this when Hazlett began volunteering in the children’s ministry at their North Charleston campus last year. They expressed shock when he was accused of sexually assaulting at least 14 children during his nine months there. They said they had taken every precaution to prevent such crimes from occurring.
But this wasn’t the first time that NewSpring — a Southern Baptist megachurch with 14 campuses across South Carolina — had counted accused child predators among its ranks.
It also wasn’t the second time. Or even the third.
Since 2016, at least four men working in varying capacities for NewSpring have been accused of sexual misconduct with youngsters.
Each time NewSpring reckoned with the fallout from these allegations, the church was consistently measured in its response. Its leaders offered nearly identical explanations in every case: NewSpring vetted its staff and volunteers through an extensive screening process. The accused individuals had been removed from their posts. Evil was to blame.
Hazlett’s case, however, raises fresh questions about the church’s process for screening those who work with children and the systems it has relied on for pinpointing possible signs of abuse. Meanwhile, police and lawyers for the victims are investigating, trying to piece together how this accused molester was able to infiltrate the church and carry out his alleged crimes for so long undetected.
On Nov. 25, Hazlett was watching over a group of children — none older than 5 — in a portion of NewSpring’s KidSpring ministry called the Tree House. During the session, Hazlett escorted a 3-year-old boy to the restroom. During that visit, he sexually assaulted the boy, affidavits show.
The following day, the boy’s parents complained to NewSpring that Hazlett had an “inappropriate interaction” with their son, the church would later tell worshipers. Church officials decided to check their video surveillance system to see what had happened.
More than three dozen security cameras are situated in the rooms that comprise the children’s ministry, according to court filings, including at least one camera that is trained on panel doors that open to the restroom where Hazlett took the boy. Footage from that camera showed Hazlett looking around to make sure no one was watching before he sexually assaulted the boy, according to an arrest affidavit.
Church leaders reviewed footage from the cameras dating back three months — as far back as their surveillance system has storage. After observing what NewSpring staff described as “inappropriate conduct by Hazlett,” the church reported their findings to law enforcement, according to a letter the church sent to worshipers.
When Hazlett sat down with North Charleston detectives on Nov. 27, he told an investigator that he photographed and filmed many of the assaults.
Multiple attorneys and law enforcement officials who have reviewed footage of the acts characterized Hazlett as “impulsive.” There were times, they said, where multiple children were pursued and assaulted in one day — some more than once.
Feeds from the security cameras are supposed to be monitored in real time by volunteers who are on the North Charleston campus, said Josh Slavin, a Charleston attorney representing several of the victims’ families in a civil suit. That suit states that volunteers “either failed to monitor the live feeds or ignored the abuse that played out on the screens.”
In April 2016, 20-year-old Leo La Salle Comissions admitted to investigators that he had fondled and kissed a 15-year-old boy “in a dark room” at NewSpring’s Florence campus, according to a Florence Police Department incident report and affidavit obtained by The Post and Courier. He was initially charged with criminal sexual conduct with a minor but later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of assault and was sentenced to three years of probation.
A month after that incident, 23-year-old volunteer Chaz McKinsey Wood admitted to molesting a 10-year-old boy who he met through his duties at the NewSpring campus in Anderson County, according to reports from the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office. Wood was charged with criminal sexual conduct with a minor and committing a lewd act on a minor. He later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of assault and received a 10-year suspended sentence and five years of probation. He also was required to register as a sex offender.
Another NewSpring Church associate, Caleb Lide Jordan, was ousted after he was charged with soliciting sex with a minor in February 2018. Jordan, who was a full-time employee at the North Charleston campus from August 2011 to September 2015, served as a church volunteer after stepping down from his paid position, a church spokesperson said.
Please take the time to read the entire story at The Post and Courier website.