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Mother of 5 slain Lexington County children sues SC DSS

The five Jones children – Merah, 8, Elias, 7, Nahtahn, 6, Gabriel, 2, and Elaine, 1 – who authorities say were killed Aug. 28, 2014, in their Red Bank mobile home.
The five Jones children – Merah, 8, Elias, 7, Nahtahn, 6, Gabriel, 2, and Elaine, 1 – who authorities say were killed Aug. 28, 2014, in their Red Bank mobile home.

The mother of the five Lexington County children who were allegedly slain by their father in 2014 has filed suit against the S.C. Department of Social Services, claiming the agency failed numerous times to safeguard the children despite many reports that the father, Timothy Jones, was a threat to their lives and well-being.

“Repeated failures ...were the factual and proximate cause of the brutal deaths of five innocent and vulnerable minor children,” said the lawsuit, filed by Amber Jones, who is divorced from Timothy Jones.

Prosecutors have charged Timothy Jones, 34, with five counts of murder in the deaths of the Jones’ five children – Merah, 8, Elias, 7, Nahtahn, 6, Gabriel, 2, and Elaine, 1 – and are seeking the death penalty. No date has been set for trial.

Because a judge has slapped a gag order on those involved in the case, the allegations in Amber Jones’ lawsuit are the most detailed narrative to date of what apparently went so tragically wrong in the Jones household in Lexington County in 2014 – and in prior years.

Amber Jones’ attorneys, Dick Harpootlian and Hyman Rubin Jr., had no comment on the case, Harpootlian said.

The lawsuit, filed in Richland County circuit court, seeks unspecified damages for the children’s deaths.

Timothy Jones, a former U.S. Navy seaman and ex-convict from Illinois and a former computer technician for Intel in Columbia, is described in the lawsuit as “a well-documented child abuser and the person responsible for their eventual murder.”

Boyd Young, a lawyer for Jones, who is in jail, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The lawsuit gives this version of events:

In 2000, Timothy Jones was discharged from the Navy for substance abuse problems.

In 2001, Jones was convicted of various criminal offenses, including possession of cocaine and car theft, and served time in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

In 2004, Jones married Amber Jones, then 19, and they began to have children.

In July 2009, the Joneses moved to Batesburg-Leesville.

In September 2011, Lexington County Department of Social Services received reports on the Jones family, alleging that filthy trash was seen around their home and that Jones had threatened to shoot a neighbor’s dog.

In late September 2011, after receiving a report that Jones was trying to buy a gun on the black market, a DSS caseworker visited the family. The caseworker found power tools accessible to the children. A “safety plan” was begun.

Between Sept. 30 and Oct. 21, 2011, DSS made three additional visits to the house but took no further action.

On Oct. 28, 2011, after a caseworker made an unannounced visit, Jones became hostile, accused the worker of “ruining peoples’ lives” and law enforcement was called.

That day, the caseworker determined that “the children were suffering from maltreatment and neglect that presented a substantial risk of physical injury ... dangerous chemicals were left within the reach of the children.”

Although on Nov. 11, 2011, DSS developed a treatment plan, the plan “resulted in no action to protect the children.”

In December 2011, the children’s case was transferred to a new caseworker, who “took no action to assess the children’s safety.”

On Jan. 13, 2012, DSS caseworkers completed a “comprehensive safety and risk assessment” of the Jones family that documented the physical violence and neglect at the home.

In May 2012, Amber Jones filed a criminal domestic violence complaint against her husband, alleging he had threatened to “snap her neck” and shoot the neighbors. Jones also, while driving, “played chicken” with an 18-wheeler while Amber Jones and the children were in the car, then “head-butted Ms. Jones and spit in her face.”

Amber Jones reported her complaint to DSS, which “adopted a fifth safety plan, but took no action.”

On June 18, 2012, Amber Jones contacted DSS to report that her husband has kidnapped the children and taken them to Mississippi, where his parents live. A caseworker advises Jones to contact a family lawyer.

In August and October 2012, despite continuing evidence that the children were still at risk, DSS closed the Jones’ children’s case, ruling that “risk has been reduced and services are no longer needed.”

On March 7, 2013, a school teacher contacted Lexington County DSS to report that Timothy Jones had considered using kerosene and a heat gun to rid one of his children of head lice.

On Sept. 30, 2013, the Joneses divorced. Timothy Jones was awarded primary custody of the five children.

In April and May 2013, school officials made two reports of suspected child abuse, including repeated spankings with a belt, to DSS.

After those allegations, Lexington County DSS “drafted a sixth safety plan,” and during a caseworker’s home visit on June 17, 2014, bruises were noted on one child’s face.

On July 15, 2014, a teacher made yet another abuse report to DSS after seeing bruises “all over” three of the five children.

On July 24, 2014, a DSS supervisor “completed a review of the children’s case and closed the file,” even though the children “continued to be abused and neglected.”

On Aug. 7, 2014, an anonymous caller reported physical abuse of one of the children to DSS. A caseworker and a sheriff’s deputy found a child with a bandaged eye. A babysitter also reported that Jones had been abusive, withheld food from them and was planning to take the children out of state.

The caseworker then made a report noting “substantial risk of physical abuse” to the children, but no action was taken to remove the children from the home.

“Instead, on Aug. 8, 2014, Lexington County DSS referred the case to law enforcement, citing Mr. Jones’s conduct of beating and bruising one of the children, his failure to properly feed the children and his failure to return the children to school,” the lawsuit continued.

The lawsuit also said that on Aug. 28, 2014, Jones picked up all five children from school and daycare and took them home to their deaths.

“He killed four of the children, one-by-one, strangling each child at the neck with his bare hands until dead,” the lawsuit said. “He beats the fifth child causing his gradual and painful death. ”

“Each child suffers a horrific, but entirely preventable death,” the lawsuit said.

A law enforcement search for the children began after their mother reported them missing Sept. 3, 2014.

Authorities eventually found the bodies buried in shallow graves in Alabama. Jones led them to the bodies, police have said. The traffic stop ended his odyssey of more than a week of driving through the Southeast, the bodies of the children in plastic garbage bags in his SUV for part of that trip, authorities have said.

Timothy Jones told investigators he believed his children planned to kill him and then “chop him up and feed him to the dogs,” according to an arrest warrant in the case.

On Sept. 6, 2014, Jones was stopped at a traffic safety checkpoint in Raleigh, Miss., on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

WHAT HAPPENED

Timothy Jones Jr. was driving Sept. 6, 2014, was stopped at a traffic safety checkpoint in Raleigh, Miss., on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Police said they found traces of synthetic marijuana and saw blood and children’s clothing but no children.

The children’s bodies were found three days later, buried on a hillside outside Camden, Ala., after Jones led investigators there.

Lexington officials think he strangled four of the children in their Red Bank home Aug. 28, 2014, and beat the fifth to death. He then drove for days around the Southeast, some of those with the children’s bodies in the back of the van, before being stopped by police.

WHERE THE CASE STANDS

Jones is charged with five counts of murder and has been in police custody since his arrest.

Prosecutors have announced they will seek the death penalty but have not set a trial date.

Shortly after the arrest, Jones’ Columbia attorney, hired by his parents, said his mental condition needed to be evaluated since he had been treated in the past for problems. She would not be elaborate.

Everyone connected to the case is under a judge’s gag order prohibiting them from discussing it. Jones’ lawyers asked for the order to prevent disclosure of some evidence before a trial.

Amber Jones has moved – she had lived near her children. Before the lawsuit’s filing, she hadn’t been seen or heard from publicly since reporting the children missing when Jones didn’t drop them off for a custody visit.

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