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Sheriff's office removed Powell children for safety; 2 judges may review case separately

Published: Monday, Sept. 26 2011 11:56 p.m. MDT

Chuck and Judy Cox, parents of Susan Powell, are seeking custody of their two grandchildren who have been living with Josh and Steven Powell since Susan's disappearance.

Pat Reavy, Deseret News

PUYALLUP, Wash. — Last week's decision to take Josh Powell's two young boys from their house was made by the Pierce County Sheriff's Office, according to state social services officials.

On Wednesday, Powell — the husband of missing West Valley woman Susan Cox Powell — and her parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, will square off in court for a hearing on the grandparents' petition to take custody of their two grandsons, ages 4 and 6.

The children were removed from the home Thursday night after Steven Powell, Josh Powell's father, was arrested and charged with possession of child porn and 14 counts of voyeurism. He remained in the Pierce County Jail Monday on a cash only $200,000 bail.

While state officials in Washington have the authority to ask law enforcement to remove children from homes that they feel pose a possible danger, in this case it was the sheriff's office that made the determination to remove the children, said Sherry Hill, communications director for the Washington Department of Social and Health Services' Children's Administration.

"They determined there may be some sort of harm to the children or they may need to be protected in some way. They chose to put the children in protective custody," she said without going into detail.

Hill was not allowed to talk to about any specifics of the Powell case. Calls made to the spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff Office Monday either rang without an answer or went to a voice mail that was full.

But in general, Hill said once a child is placed in protective custody in a foster home, the state has 72 hours to file a case in juvenile court. She said her department will conduct its own investigation and choose whether to file a motion there to continue protective custody.

The Cox family's petition to gain custody of their grandchildren is a separate matter held in a separate court, Hill said.

It is likely the two courts will be communicating with each other to make sure conflicting orders aren't issued from each jurisdiction, she said. Either court could determine whether it's best to place the children back with the father, place them with their grandparents, with other relatives or keep them in foster care.

Susan Cox Powell has been missing since December of 2009. Josh Powell has retained custody of their children since her disappearance, rarely allowing his in-laws, Chuck and Judy Cox, to see them and at one point even filed a restraining order against Chuck Cox.

Steven Powell's arrest followed several bizarre interviews he gave to the media the month before when he hinted at an affair between him and his daughter-in-law. A late-August search conducted by West Valley police of the Powell home in Puyallup, Wash., resulted in thousands of pornographic images allegedly belonging to Steven Powell being seized. Many of the pictures and videos were of children. Some were of Susan, according to authorities, and appeared to be taken without permission.

Should Powell, who was fired from his job at the Washington Department of Corrections as a delivery driver after his arrest, make bail, a judge ordered that he cannot go outside the Seattle and Puyallup areas, cannot have contact with the alleged victims or come within 1,000 feet of their residence. He will also be prohibited from having any contact at all with children 18 and under and must stay away from schools and playgrounds.

If he returns to his home and Josh Powell retains custody of his boys, that could mean Josh Powell and the children would have to live elsewhere if exceptions to the judge's order aren't made.

Steven Powell's next court hearing is scheduled for Oct. 11.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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