Special Reports

Utah council denies request for Josh Powell investigation records

This undated picture made available by Hardman Photography shows Susan Powell. The 28-year-old mother from the Salt Lake City area was reported missing on Monday, Dec. 7, 2009.
This undated picture made available by Hardman Photography shows Susan Powell. The 28-year-old mother from the Salt Lake City area was reported missing on Monday, Dec. 7, 2009. AP

The West Valley City Council in Utah has denied a request to release documents related to the investigation of Josh Powell.

The council discussed Tuesday night whether to release the records, Councilman Corey Rushton said Wednesday. The council unanimously agreed to deny The Salt Lake Tribune’s request, he said.

In a four-page document outlining their reasoning, West Valley City officials wrote that Utah law allows the city to classify records as protected if they “reasonably could be expected to interfere with investigations undertaken for enforcement, discipline, licensing, certification or registration purposes.”

Terry Orme, the Tribune’s managing editor, said the council’s decision is not in the public’s interest.

“The Tribune thinks that the public has the interest and the right to have a glimpse into the investigation of Susan Powell’s disappearance. First, this investigation has been going on for more than two years without any discernible progress. Second, significant taxpayer-funded resources have been expended in this investigation. Citizens deserve to know how their money is being spent,” Orme said.

Last week, Tribune reporters Aaron Falk and Nate Carlisle appeared before the council to ask that the records be released.

Falk argued that people are entitled to a general idea of how taxpayer money was spent. He also said some records should no longer be protected from disclosure because Josh Powell died along with his two young sons in a gasoline-fueled fire at his Graham home in February.

Clint Gilmore, West Valley City’s assistant chief prosecutor and police legal adviser, had argued that disclosing the records could interfere with the ongoing investigation into Susan Cox Powell’s disappearance. Josh Powell is a person of interest in the former Puyallup woman’s disappearance.

Gilmore said records can be withheld if their release would create a danger of depriving someone of a right to a fair trial or could reasonably be expected to disclose a source’s identity.

Steve Powell, Josh Powell’s father, is awaiting trial on voyeurism and pornography charges in Pierce County Superior Court. Susan Powell’s family members have said publicly that they think Steve Powell might have been involved in his daughter-in-law’s disappearance or knows what happened to her. Police have never named Steve Powell a suspect in her disappearance.

But Steve Powell became intertwined with his daughter-in-law’s disappearance after evidence emerged that he surreptitiously took photos of Susan Powell. Steve Powell went on national television to declare his love for Susan Powell, which the woman’s friends and family described as an obsession. A trial for Steve Powell is scheduled for May 7.

Defense attorneys for Steve Powell have received search warrants and affidavits from West Valley City as part of a request for evidence in the discovery process, court documents show.

That means it is possible that some information denied in the Tribune’s record request could become public at Steve Powell’s trial.

Orme said Wednesday that the Tribune will consider its options on how to proceed with the denial, including court action. The Tribune already has a case pending in 3rd District Court involving the release of West Valley City police search warrants sealed by a Utah judge.

Orme noted it is likely that some of the information in the sealed search warrants already has been made public in Washington courts, in the case of Steve Powell and in the aftermath of the investigation into Josh Powell’s decision to set ablaze his home.