WEST VALLEY CITY — In the wake of new criticism over the lack of an arrest in the Susan Cox Powell case, the mayor of West Valley City insists his police department did everything it could.
After Friday's release of evidence that strongly points to Josh Powell being responsible for the disappearance and death of his wife, frustrated members of her family and investigators in Washington state questioned why he wasn't arrested long before he murdered the couple's two young sons and killed himself.
"It is easy to Monday morning quarterback these things. It is easy for those of us who watch TV to say, 'Hey, there is plenty of evidence,'" Mayor Mike Winder said Saturday. "It is a different matter if you are in the legal community to have enough evidence to go in for an arrest."
In search warrants unsealed in Tacoma, Wash., on Friday — including one written by West Valley police — a string of information uncovered shortly after Susan Powell disappeared in December of 2009 points to inconsistencies in what her husband, Josh Powell, told relatives and police during the investigation. It also revealed that her cell phone with its memory card removed was found in his car, as well as a generator, tarps, a shovel and blankets.
Police also found her blood in the home near a sofa and safe deposit box containing a note and will Susan Powell had written in 2008 in which she said she did not trust her husband and if she died, "It may not be an accident, even if it looks like one."
On Friday, Pierce County prosecutor Mark Lindquist said that the totality of evidence would have merited charges being brought against Josh Powell if his office had reviewed the case. The Pierce County Sheriff's Office also said it would have arrested Josh Powell a long time ago.
Had Josh Powell been behind bars, he wouldn't have been able to kill his two boys, Charlie and Braden Powell, and take his own life in a fiery inferno. The double murder-suicide occurred Feb. 5.
Winder said he's keenly aware of all the emotion and angst tied up in the Powell case, and the public is rightfully disturbed.
"We wish Josh wouldn't have done what he did, obviously," he said.
Susan Powell's father, Chuck Cox, lamented the lack of action by West Valley police investigators.
"That would have never happened if Josh had been in jail. The children would be safe. How much more do you need? It's just very frustrating," he said.
Cox said he basically pleaded with police to make a move against his son-in-law.
"I did everything within my power to ask them, would they please arrest him if they have enough, if they think they're even close, would they go ahead and do it and they assured me they were doing the best they could at the time."
Although he said he generally respected the work and effort of the police department, he believes investigators made a bad call by failing to take action. Susan's sister, Denise Cox, expressed similar frustrations.
Anne Bremner, the attorney representing Chuck and Judy Cox, said Saturday she was flabbergasted police didn't make an arrest given the information officers had.
"There was compelling evidence he killed her," said Bremner, who used to work as a prosecutor in the King County, Wash., Attorney's Office. "I prosecuted cases on far less than that and won them. There was enough evidence to arrest Josh and if he had been arrested, the boys would be alive."
But Winder — trying to deflect the glare of scrutiny being directed at his city's officers, pointed out that Washington was ultimately responsible for the safety of the two boys.
"They had that information, they had that knowledge that was revealed yesterday," he said Saturday.
In that scenario, however, the prickly question of jurisdiction comes into play. Washington's agencies weren't investigating Josh Powell for a homicide, so it wasn't their call to make. In addition, West Valley police have repeatedly said they have been handling the case of Susan Powell as a missing person's case. They don't have a body, and no firm answers on where — and if — a homicide took place.
Josh Powell told police he left his wife at home and took the boys camping in the west desert of Utah in sub-zero temperatures the night she went missing. No one has seen or heard from Susan Powell since then, and her family swears she would never have abandoned her children. Several police searches in various parts of Utah have yielded no answers and Josh Powell refused to cooperate in the investigation, moving his family to Washington shortly after his wife disappeared.
Winder said it's easy and tempting to go back and second guess a law enforcement agency, especially through the lens of "what ifs" when it comes to those boys' deaths.
"We all just ache and grieve with the Cox family as we have watched what has unfolded," he said. "But I will tell you this: No one cared more about this case than (Chief) Buzz Nielsen and his officers. They put in many hours and blood, sweat and tears. The last thing they were going to do is make a premature arrest and let someone slip through the fingers of justice."
Contributing: Hunter Schwarz
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