State social services officials have launched an investigation into the welfare of two children police say were inside a Rock Hill home last month when a suspected drug dealer and officers were involved in a shootout.
The incident left two officers wounded, and police stated in documents and in court Tuesday that guns and drugs were seized.
The 7- and 9-year-old children, who were not hurt, were in the bedroom next to the one where suspect Tymon Wells and officers exchanged gunfire, according to court testimony.
Further, the police supervisor in charge of the drug bust in February told The Herald on Thursday that his officers should have notified the state Department of Social Services that children were in the home at 813 Arlington Ave. at the time of the incident.
"If I had to do it all over again, I would have called them (DSS) to follow up," said Marvin Brown, commander of the York County Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit. Wells "picked up a gun and fired it. That probably should have been enough."
One of the police officers who was wounded told investigators the shots allegedly fired by Wells were in the direction of the children in the next room, court testimony showed.
After the shooting, police took away Wells and the drugs and weapons found inside the house, Brown said, eliminating any threat to the children.
Still, he said, the fact that the suspect fired a gun with children nearby during the service of the search warrant should have prompted a contact with the social services agency.
DSS took action after child welfare workers in the York County office read an account of Tuesday's court hearing in Wells' criminal case in Wednesday's Herald, said Virginia Williamson, the agency's general counsel.
DSS workers are required by law to report a situation that might require an investigation.
"The information that children may have been placed at risk was enough to initiate an investigation of our own," Williamson said Thursday.
Williamson would not comment on what specifically prompted the investigation or whether police should have called DSS.
The agency started the investigation, she said, because "the totality of the information was enough - the public record was enough."
In Tuesday's preliminary hearing, a magistrate judge ruled there was probable cause for prosecutors to move forward against Wells on nine charges. During that hearing, officers read from police reports and witness statements and answered questions from Wells' lawyer and prosecutors.
Report left out children
The original police report from the incident did not indicate that children were present during the shootout that wounded officers Will Reap of the York County drug unit and Trista Baird of the Rock Hill Police Department. Wells was shot in both legs.
Police are not required to call DSS on every case involving children, Williamson said. They can decide to place children in emergency protective custody, call in DSS, or both.
Brown, the drug unit supervisor, said Thursday that the law enforcement priority immediately after the shooting was the situation at hand: Two officers shot, a suspect shot, and the crime scene.
It is common that children are in a home when drug agents conduct raids and serve search warrants, Brown said.
In most cases, officers do not make a referral if the children are in another room but not in danger, or if officers do not suspect any abuse or neglect.
It is not uncommon that drugs and weapons are recovered when his unit serves a warrant, Brown said - but it is unusual for officers and suspects to get into a shootout.
Brown met Thursday with the children's mother, Shaquita Robinson, at the Arlington Avenue home and saw the children.
"They were fine," Brown said.
In court testimony, police said Robinson, 29, was Wells' girlfriend and her father owns the home on Arlington Avenue.
Robinson is on probation for a second conviction for drug possession from an arrest in March 2009, according to police documents and Pete O'Boyle, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.
Williamson declined comment on whether Robinson had any previous involvement with DSS.
It was not known Thursday whether any social welfare agency or law enforcement agency has had any contact with Robinson or the children in the seven weeks since the shootout.
Kevin Brackett, 16th Circuit solicitor, whose office oversees the York County Multijurisdictional Drug Unit, said a decision to call DSS is made by police, not his office.
SLED didn't know of kids
The drug unit includes officers from several York County police departments. The Feb. 3 drug raid happened inside the Rock Hill city limits.
Rock Hill Police also provided backup the night of the raid, and court testimony showed that was the reason the Rock Hill officer who was injured was on the scene.
Because the case turned into an officer-involved shooting, the State Law Enforcement Division is handling the follow-up investigation.
A SLED spokeswoman said Thursday that state investigators did not know when they arrived at the crime scene that children were inside the home at the time of the shooting.
"When SLED agents arrived at the scene, it was secured," said SLED spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons Thursday in a written statement. "We had no knowledge that children had been inside the residence, and there were no children present when SLED agents arrived."
It is unclear if probation agents handling Robinson's case were notified of the Feb. 3 incident.
Testimony in court Tuesday showed that Robinson told police after the incident that she was the victim of domestic violence at the hands of Wells. She said she had sought advice about getting a protective order against Wells, but had not followed through with a formal court filing to have Wells removed from the home.
Testimony also showed Robinson told police she did not know Wells' business, and told police she had no knowledge that either drugs or guns were in the home.
Two handguns were seized in the drug raid, according to testimony, along with crack cocaine, powder cocaine, marijuana, scales and cash.
Police also testified that Robinson told officers Wells gave her rides and helped with the children.
Robinson was not at the Arlington Avenue home Thursday afternoon and could not be reached for comment. Neighbor Fletcher Ervin said the two children play outside often, including on his property next door, and they are "happy."
Robinson is "doing the best she can as a mother, Ervin said.
Another neighbor, Gary Dunham, who lives directly across the street, said Robinson "takes good care of her kids."
Suspect faces multiple charges
Wells faces charges including assault and battery with intent to kill, several drug charges, and weapons charges. He is on parole for a 2005 federal weapons conviction stemming from the theft of 35 guns from a Rock Hill store.
Wells is supposed to be barred from possessing a gun because of his felony convictions, according to police and court documents. He is being held in jail without bond.
Police knew Wells' past and were investigating him as a suspected drug dealer when officers sent a confidential informant to buy crack cocaine from him on Jan. 27, according to documents and court testimony Tuesday.
That drug buy was enough for police to secure a search warrant for Wells at the Arlington Avenue house, according to testimony and police records.
Before moving into the home on Feb. 3, officers announced twice that they were outside with a search warrant, and that both times someone inside asked who it was at the door, according to court testimony.
Wells and others inside the house, including Robinson, the mother of the children, claimed in statements to police afterward they did not hear police announce they were outside.
Wells told police after the incident that he fired one shot at the floor as a warning. But Reap, the Fort Mill officer who was wounded, told investigators Wells sat on the edge of the bed and fired at him. Reap was hit once in the arm.
It remained unclear after testimony Tuesday who fired the bullet that hit Baird, the Rock Hill officer who was outside the house.
Robinson ran out of the house with her children during the shooting incident, according to court testimony and Brown, the police supervisor who interviewed her a couple of days after the incident.
Robinson was not listed in the search warrant as a suspect in the drug case, records and testimony showed, and has not been charged with any crime stemming from the Feb. 3 incident.
Neither Robinson nor the children were in the home Jan. 27 when the informant is alleged to have bought the drugs from Wells, Brown said.
Children in bed after shooting
Court testimony Tuesday also showed that two other adults in the home at the time of the shootout, who were both charged with simple possession of marijuana, told police that Wells had sold crack cocaine to three people before the raid. There is no evidence that the children were there at those times either, Brown said.
Brown said the focus of police immediately after the shootings was the situation with two officers and the suspect hurt, and that neither he nor other officers talked with Robinson that night after she ran out with the children.
After the shooting, Brown asked officers who were in the house at the time of the incident about the status of the children.
"I was told they were clean in pajamas, in the bed," he said, and no drugs were found in the bedroom where the children were.
A couple of days after the shooting, Brown said, he found Robinson and interviewed her as part of the investigation.
A police report from the incident stated police knew after the shooting Robinson had two previous drug convictions. However, Brown said, after interviewing Robinson, no charges were filed against her from the Feb. 3 incident.
Brown said that, as soon as he sought out Robinson two days after the raid, he found her and she did not flee from police.
"She was not hiding," he said.
It is unclear where the children were in the days after the shootings, or exactly when Robinson and the children returned to the Arlington Avenue home.
Herald reporter Kimberly Dick contributed