Police were watching, listening to Josh and Steven Powell, unsealed warrants show

Published: Friday, May 24 2013 6:25 p.m. MDT

West Valley police search abandoned mine shafts for Susan Powell near in Ely, Nev., Friday, Aug. 19, 2011. Susan Powell has been missing since Dec. 7, 2009.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — Police investigating the disappearance of Susan Powell used wiretaps on phones belonging to Josh Powell and his father, Steven Powell, and attempted to orchestrate ways to get them to talk, newly released search warrants show.

The warrants in the Powell case were unsealed for the first time Thursday after the Deseret News filed a motion in 3rd District Court. West Valley police on Monday also released tens of thousands of pages of police reports and other documents related to their investigation into Susan Cox Powell's disappearance.

In their requests for wiretaps in 2011, West Valley police wrote about the status of their investigation into Josh Powell, who is suspected of killing his wife, and Steven Powell, who was suspected of obstructing justice.

Investigators wrote that they needed the wiretaps because "normal investigative procedures have been tried and failed, have met with limited success, or reasonably appear unlikely to succeed if tried, or are too dangerous to meet the specified objectives of this criminal investigation."

At that time, the focus of the investigation was on both Josh and Steven Powell, according to court documents. Michael Powell, Josh's brother, was not a focus of the wiretaps, but police this week said they believe he had "intimate involvement" in his sister-in-law's disappearance.

Susan Powell disappeared in December of 2009. Almost immediately after she was reported missing, investigators noted that Josh Powell was giving "contradictory and unreasonable" answers to police questions and could not answer any question in detail.

"For the first 36 hours after his wife has disappeared, J. Powell never inquires about her welfare, never asks what police are doing to locate her, never offers any help or assistance to law enforcement," a search warrant states.

He also had spent the night cleaning the minivan he used to allegedly take his young sons camping the night his wife disappeared, police wrote.

Watching Josh

West Valley police conducted surveillance on Josh Powell shortly after his wife disappeared and even followed him to a strip club in Wendover, Nev., according to an affidavit requesting a wiretap. During the drive, officers observed Powell "perform so many maneuvers designed to detect or thwart surveillance that law enforcement had to use an airplane to continue observing his actions," an affidavit states.

Police noted that both Steven and Josh Powell acted as if they were constantly being watched.

Trash that Josh Powell had thrown away from his West Valley house was found in other trash cans. A check of Josh Powell's computer history showed he spent time looking at weather conditions and maps before allegedly taking his sons on that camping trip to Tooele County during a snowstorm.

In talking about his criminal history, West Valley police noted that Powell had been "involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital" in 2006 following a domestic violence incident at his family's home in Puyallup, Wash.

According to the wiretap order, detectives were limited to intercepting calls "relating to the kidnapping and/or murder of Susan Marie Powell, or the obstruction of said investigation" and may include calls "pertaining to the solicitation, requesting, commanding, encouraging, arranging, or intentionally aiding" of the crime.

By the time investigators had asked for the wiretaps in August of 2011, "the geographical area searched in this case (was) approximately the size of Switzerland," court records state. Twenty-one search warrants had been served at that time, more than 99 subpoenas had been issued and more than 800 potential witnesses interviewed.

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