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What’s real reason for withholding records in Powell case?

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on April 22, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
April 20, 2012 4:15 pm

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Despite strong circumstantial evidence in the December 2009 disappearance of Susan Cox Powell, authorities in West Valley City, Utah, never filed any charges against the only person they say they suspected: her husband, Josh Charles.

Now that he’s dead – having killed himself and his two young sons – there’s no good reason to withhold records related to the investigation. The Salt Lake Tribune has tried to get those records, but the West Valley City Council has refused to release them.

The Tribune’s request is legitimate. It is in the public interest to determine why authorities failed to take action against Josh Powell – which might have prevented the February murders of 5-year-old Braden and 7-year-old Charlie in Graham. And the newspaper could look into whether taxpayer money was responsibly spent in the two-year investigation.

In denying the records request, the council cited Utah law that allows records to be withheld if they “reasonably could be expected to interfere with investigations undertaken for enforcement, discipline, licensing, certification or registration purposes.”

Is that a roundabout way of saying they still have a suspect in Susan’s disappearance? Questions have been raised about whether Josh Powell’s father, Steve Powell, might have been involved in some way. He is scheduled to go on trial May 7 in Pierce County on voyeurism and child pornography charges.

Even if Steve Powell is under investigation, West Valley City should be able to release records that do not refer to him. If they are concerned about identifying any sources, names can be redacted.

Unless city officials can be more forthcoming with a good explanation for denying the Tribune’s records request, they shouldn’t be surprised that people have their own ideas. Are officials concerned that the records would reveal incompetence? That they would provide fodder for a lawsuit by Susan’s family?

West Valley City officials should reconsider their decision to withhold the records – or at the very least give a better explanation for it.

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