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Lawyer presses West Valley City for Susan Powell police file

Published August 22, 2012 12:39 pm

Council • No decision is made yet; Cox family attorney says she'll probably sue.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

West Valley City • The City Council will review police investigative records into the disappearance of Susan Cox Powell in a closed session before deciding whether to release them to an attorney for the missing woman's parents.

Councilman Corey Rushton, acting mayor, said the council came to no other conclusions Tuesday in a brief executive session that followed a sometimes testy public hearing on the request for the documents.

The council has five business days to issue a decision on the request for the records from Washington attorney Anne Bremner.

"We're as anxious as anyone to get to the bottom of this," Rushton said before joining the council in the private session.

Bremner argued that Powell's parents are entitled to police records detailing the investigation into her 2009 disappearance because they are also victims. She said the piecemeal release of information in the case has been like a "knife to the heart" to her clients.

"Chuck and Judy would like to just see it all now," Bremner told council members, arguing they have the right to make a conditional release of the documents under Utah's Victims' Rights Act. She also said the Coxes believe reviewing the records will help them find their missing daughter.

But Clint Gilmore, legal adviser to the West Valley City Police Department, said release of the records could jeopardize its ongoing investigation.

"We want to solve this case," Gilmore said. "That is our purpose. The case is still active and we are pursuing it."

City Attorney Eric Bunderson told council members they could put restrictions on dissemination of the records if they decide to release them to Bremner.

Powell was last seen at her West Valley City home on Dec. 6, 2009. Her husband Josh Powell told police she was in bed when he left their home around 12:30 a.m. on Dec. 7 with their two young sons to camp in the desert. Susan Powell is still missing and has not yet been declared dead.

Josh Powell killed his two sons and himself in a fire set at his rented home in Graham, Wash., on Feb. 5.

Bremner first requested the documents from the police department in April. She filed a similar request with the Pierce County Sheriff's Office at the same time.

Bremner asked for investigative reports, forensic and evidence reports, witness and suspect statements, audio, video and surveillance recordings, photographs and reports and communication from other law enforcement agencies.

Bremner said she wants to review the documents for a potential civil lawsuit and has pledged to not release them publicly. She maintains there are no privacy or investigative concerns that warrant keeping the files from Susan Powell's parents.

Bremner filed an appeal with the council in July after both the police department and the city's manager rejected requests for "any and all" investigative files related to the case, citing Utah's public records law.

Councilman Steve Buhler, an attorney, had pointed questions for Bremner about who she represents and whether there can be a victims' rights claim since no court has declared Susan Powell dead. He noted that Bremner said in some records requests and subsequent appeals that she represents Susan Powell's estate.

Bremner responded sharply, saying she didn't want to argue with Buhler, but later apologized for her tone. She told him he holds an important government position and she hopes he does "the right thing."

Afterward, Bremner said she was "100 percent sure" the fight for the records will end up in court.

Kiirsi Hellewell, Susan's friend and former neighbor, attended Tuesday's hearing and expressed confidence in the work West Valley City police are doing to solve the case.

"I completely believe that they're working full time on this," Hellewell said.

Hellewell said she believe it is "obvious" they are investigating others besides Josh Powell — something Gilmore also hinted at Tuesday night, saying the ongoing police investigation isn't aimed at filing criminal charges against the missing woman's husband.

To see a video of the hearing, visit http://bit.ly/r9Z1lv and click on the "City Council" tab.