LEXINGTON COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - The Department of Social Services served as a frequent visitor to the household of Timothy Jones Jr., but despite allegations of abuse and neglect, all five children remained in the care of their now accused killer.
On Tuesday, the DSS caseworker who handled the Jones’ investigations, Sherry Henry, was called to testify by the defense, detailing allegations made against Jones on different occasions in the summer of 2014, months before the children were killed.
The first report, made by a teacher of Jones’ son Nahtahn, 6, cited bruises on the boy’s neck and arms. Henry testified she arrived at Saxe Gotha Elementary School and took photos of the injuries, which were shown to the jury. She also testified to interviewing his siblings, Merah, 8; and Elias, 7; about where the bruises came from. All of the children told Henry Jones had choked Nahtahn, slamming him against a wall and holding him there after he broke one of Elias’ toys at home.
Henry testified when Jones was contacted, he told her Nahthan had “destroyed” his brother’s train set and showed investigators how he yanked Nahtahn up by the back of his shirt collar and then spanked him.
Two follow up visits, both of which were unannounced, did not show any additional signs of abuse. Upon completion of the investigation, Henry testified the department found a “substantial risk of physical injury,” but did not feel any additional treatment for the family was necessary.
“We were going to substantiate the case for a threat of harm, it could happen, that the kids could be physically abused, but there would be no service, no treatment intervention into the family,” she said.
Instead, Jones was given a safety plan, in which he agreed to not use corporal punishment on the children, not communicate about the allegations with the kids, keep the house clean and agreed not to wrestle or horseplay with the children.
In August, Henry was called out to the Jones’ home once again after someone reported Jones allegedly spanking Elias, 7; and Gabriel, 2; while on a trip to Disney World. The allegations also stated Jones would force the five children to share a 20-piece nugget meal for dinner.
Henry testified the allegations into Jones’ beating his two sons were unfounded, as no evidence was located to substantiate the claims. Three weeks after the report was filed, the children were killed.
In 2016, Amber Kyzer, the mother of the children, filed a lawsuit against DSS and the state for neglecting to protect the children before their deaths. It cited numerous visits to the Jones home and a history of what it called a “well-documented child abuser.”
In the suit, Jones alleges the state and the county DSS branch failed to protect the five children -- Abigail Elizabeth Jones, 1; Gabriel Jones, 2; Nahtahn Jones, 6; Elias Jones, 7; and Merah Gracie Jones, 8 --before they were found dead in Alabama back in September 2014.
Jones, represented by attorneys Dick Harpootlian and Hyman Rubin, goes into detail about how the state allegedly failed to protect the children despite numerous calls and investigations by DSS.
"At all times relevant to this action, SC DSS had actual knowledge of the risk posed to the children by Mr. Jones and the inadequacy of Lexington County DSS's response to those risks based on reports and investigations provided to SC DSS by Lexington County DSS," the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit details some of the history involving Jones, the children, DSS, and other parties. In 2011, the lawsuit says DSS made visits a couple different times because the children were living in dirty conditions, were being neglected, and had a "substantial risk of physical injury." The lawsuit goes on to note that DSS didn't do much more than file "safety plans."
Also recorded in the suit was a notation where caseworkers returned in 2012 and learned that Tim threatened to snap his wife's neck.
In total, Amber Kyzer says DSS showed negligence in 11 different areas.
The civil case is seeking an undetermined amount of damages and has yet to go to trial.
On Tuesday afternoon, the jury also heard testimony from a handful of Jones’ former coworkers at Intel Corporation. All described him as very intelligent, but somewhat socially awkward and an introvert.
One coworker became emotional on the stand as he reflected on when he found out about Jones’ arrest.
“It was unbelievable. It wasn’t something that anyone thought that he was capable of or that would happen,” Todd Schelling said. “I remember the day we kind of found out for sure and I tried to kind of carry-on, kind of in denial. I think that I went to go get a haircut and sat down on the sidewalk and cried on the phone with my wife and then remember making a trip over to my church and speaking with my priest for a while.”
Schelling told the jury about a conversation he had with Jones when he was seeking advice about whether he should move away from South Carolina or stay put.
“It tears me up that somehow, how I thought we were at that site no one was there,” he said. “Whatever help might have helped Tim, I just, I feel like somehow I let him down.”