The untold story
It has been more than two years since Susan Powell, wife and mother of two young sons, went missing from her West Valley City home. It has been more than two months since those two young sons died at the hands of their father, Josh Powell, who was the only named person of interest in Susan's disappearance.
Yet the West Valley City Police Department, city manager and, as of Wednesday, City Council, all continue to treat the police records from the case as though their disclosure would blow the cover on an active police investigation. And, because all those officials continue to refuse to release any of those records, we have only their word for that.
That is not enough.
It is in the interest of the people of West Valley City to have a look into this case. The people have a right to consider those official doings with an eye toward discovering whether there were any errors or omissions along the way that prevented investigators from finding the woman, or her body.
And they need to consider whether there was enough evidence to charge Josh Powell in connection with his wife's disappearance. If Josh Powell had been arrested, it is highly unlikely that he would have had the opportunity to carry out his heinous final act, the murder of his two innocent sons, and his own suicide, in a gasoline-fueled fire he set in a rented home in Graham, Wash., in early February.
Reporters for The Salt Lake Tribune, acting in the public interest, sought those records through the provisions of the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act. The request was thrice denied, first by the West Valley City Police Department, then by City Manager Wayne Pyle, then, after a public hearing, by the West Valley City Council.
The ruling denying access to the records is based on the portion of GRAMA that allows government agencies to refuse to disclose documents if that disclosure might interfere with an active investigation, disclose confidential sources or risk depriving any person of a right to a fair trial.
But Josh Powell will have no trial on this Earth.
Josh's father, Steve Powell, is being held on pornography and voyeurism charges in Washington. Susan's family suspects he may have been involved in her disappearance, or know something about it. But he has not been charged or even named as a person of interest in that case.
As long as these records remain closed, the only people being protected are West Valley City officials who might be embarrassed by information that would admittedly in hindsight portray them in a bad light. And that is not the kind of information the law is intended to protect.