Documents detail Josh Powell's 'anger triggers'

Published: Friday, March 2 2012 9:19 p.m. MST

Josh Powell speaks during a court hearing regarding the custody of his two sons, Sept. 28, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash.

Ted S. Warren

SALT LAKE CITY — Josh Powell's documented interactions with his two young sons reveal "anger triggers" that included the Cox family, the LDS Church and other family members.

About 1,700 additional pages of documents relating to Powell and his family were released Friday by the Washington Department of Social and Health Services. The documents included court filings, case reports, doctor evaluations and more.

Many of the documents repeated what was already reported when nearly 1,000 pages were released last month. But they also shed more light into the mental state of Powell and his two sons and how their attitudes seemed to change over the months they were monitored. While the psychological well-being of the children seemed to genuinely improve while with their grandparents, Powell tried to improve his standing with his evaluators, only to be tripped up by his own responses to his children.

Powell killed 7-year-old Charlie and 5-year-old Braden Feb. 5 as a social worker took them to his home for a supervised visit. He locked the woman out of the house, then struck his sons with a hatchet before dousing the inside of his house with gasoline and igniting a fireball. Powell also died in the fire.

Since the murders, many have questioned whether enough was done by officials in Washington state to protect the boys and whether enough information was shared between police, welfare officials and the courts.

Last week, Chuck and Judy Cox, the grandparents who had been given temporary custody of Charlie and Braden, spoke at a public hearing hosted by a state senator who is calling for change in the way Child Protective Services and the Washington Department of Social and Health Services do business.

The Coxes believe that there were enough red flags — especially after Powell was ordered to undergo a psychosexual evaluation four days before he killed his sons — that he should not have been allowed any type of visitation with the children.

But in a report dated Jan. 5, 2012, caseworkers noted that there was no evidence to cause them any concern about the physical safety of the children with their father, which is DSHS's primary objective. But the report added, "This is not a typical case in many ways."

Caseworkers noted they had two main areas of concern with Josh Powell's parenting:

• "Mr. Powell has demonstrated over time in several situations his inability to consider the psychological effect on his comments on his children."

• "Mr. Powell's current legal situation with regard to Susan Powell's disappearance and the incestual computer-generated child pornography found by Utah law enforcement on Josh's computer ... make his home unstable in that law enforcement is quite clear and public with their intention to arrest him in the near future."

Social workers feared severe harm if the two boys witnessed their father's arrest.

"This worker cannot imagine there would be another scenario that would be as  psychologically damaging as witnessing this at this point due to all the other adjustment issues with which they are currently dealing (their mother being gone with no valid explanation, moving residences at least twice in the last two years, ongoing family conflict, being without their father, missing their paternal relatives, being recognized in public to include people approaching them and staring, isolation from peers — particular to Charlie at school)."

Like in the first set of released documents, Friday's batch also outlined potential behavioral problems with the children, which seemed to improve after they were placed with the Cox family.

The children began living with their grandparents on Sept 22, 2011. A state report on Charlie from Sept. 26 noted that "counseling is recommended given the multiple stressors in his life."

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