- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The mother of five South Carolina children who police say were killed by their father in 2014 says the state’s social services agency knew the father was a threat and did nothing to stop him.

The allegations are part of a lawsuit filed last week by Amber Jones accusing the Department of Social Services of wrongful death and infliction of pain and suffering.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against her ex-husband. Authorities say Timothy Ray Jones Jr. killed his five children - ages 8, 7, 6, 2 and 1 - at their Lexington County home in 2014 and drove around with their bodies in trash bags for nine days before dumping them in an Alabama field.

Jones was arrested in Mississippi after a deputy said he smelled the stench of death coming from the SUV at a traffic checkpoint.

A Social Services spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit, which gives a detailed chronology of Jones’ criminal past, including 2001 convictions for drug possession and forgery. It also notes his 2004 marriage to Amber Jones and the subsequent births of their five children.

By 2011, the family lived in Batesburg-Leesville, where, according to the lawsuit, Social Services received a report of child abuse and neglect, piles of trash at the home as well as a report Jones had threatened to shoot a neighbor’s dog.

Caseworkers came to the family’s home multiple more times that year, even calling law enforcement after Jones became violent and accused a caseworker of “ruining people’s lives.” But, according to the suit, no action was ever taken to discipline Jones or remove the children.

The complaint documents multiple additional instances in which Jones threatened the children’s mother, who in 2012 made a criminal domestic violence complaint against him. The couple ultimately had a fifth child and then divorced in 2013, with Jones being awarded primary custody.

Over the next year, according to the lawsuit, teachers reported abuse claims to local Social Services workers after seeing bruises on three of the five children. A baby-sitter made similar claims. In August 2014, the agency contacted law enforcement, saying Jones didn’t want to return his children to public school “because he feared the school would report the beatings.”

Three weeks later, Jones picked up all five children from school and day care and killed them at the family home, authorities have said. Four children were strangled, and one was beaten to death.

Many of the claims mirror information in case files previously released by the Department of Social Services. Authorities never found anything serious enough to take the children away, but the documents show Jones as a single father and computer engineer struggling to raise his children.

“Dad appears to be overwhelmed as he is unable to maintain the home, but the children appear to be clean, groomed and appropriately dressed,” a case worker wrote Aug. 13, two weeks before the children’s disappearance.

Defense attorneys have suggested Jones suffered from mental problems, and an arrest warrant said he feared his children were going to kill him, chop him up and feed him to dogs. A judge in December ordered a psychiatric evaluation, and no trial date has been set.

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Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/

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