An attorney for the parents of Susan Cox Powell has filed a formal request with both the West Valley City Police Department and the Pierce County Sheriff's Department in Tacoma, Wash., to review all investigative files related to the missing woman's case.
Anne Bremner, a Seattle attorney who represents Chuck and Judy Cox, filed the requests this week under Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act and Washington's Public Records Act for "complete copies of any and all investigative files concerning the disappearance of Susan Cox Powell."
The request states that the documents are being sought by the Cox family "in potential litigation in which they may seek civil redress in connection with Susan's disappearance on Dec. 6, 2009."
Bremner said recently that although West Valley City Police Chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen told the Coxes in February that they could review files related to their daughter's case, the family has not yet received any documents that give them insight into how West Valley City has handled the investigation .
Nielsen visited the Coxes in Puyallup, Wash., in February after the Coxes' son-in-law, Josh Powell, killed himself along with his two young sons in a gasoline-fueled fire at his Graham, Wash., home.
Josh Powell was the only person of interest named in the disappearance of his wife before his death.
Bremner references in her request laws that entitle crime victims, survivors and witnesses access to investigative files in some cases.
"Although public disclosure laws exempt some police investigative files from disclosure, the exemption applies only where disclosure would compromise the investigation or violate an individual's right to privacy," Bremner wrote in her request. "Neither factor is at issue here. The investigation into the disappearance of Susan Cox Powell has been a joint agency investigation between West Valley City Police and the Pierce County Sheriff's Department. We believe Washington law applies to our request as well."
Bremner wrote that the Cox family seeks the investigative files to "further our representation, not for release to other parties or the general public."
"Release of the information we are seeking would further the interests of justice because it would allow us to better represent our client, the victim in this case," Bremner wrote.
The agencies have 10 days to respond to Bremner's request.
West Valley City has denied a similar request from The Salt Lake Tribune, which asked the city to release all documents related to the investigation of Josh Powell.
The West Valley City Council earlier this month denied the request, which had previously been denied by West Valley City's city manager.
In a four-page document outlining the reasoning behind the denial, West Valley City officials wrote that Utah law allows the city to classify records as protected if the records "reasonably could be expected to interfere with investigations undertaken for enforcement, discipline, licensing, certification or registration purposes."
The city also stated that releasing the documents may "create a danger of depriving a person of a right to a fair trial or impartial hearing," among other reasons cited.
"As requested, 'any and all documents pertaining to the investigation of Joshua Powell as a person of interest in the December 2009 disappearance of his wife, Susan Cox Powell,' meet the criteria of protected records," the document states.
Terry Orme, managing editor of The Tribune, has said the council's decision to deny the release of the records is not in the public's interest.
"The Tribune thinks that the public has the interest and the right to have a glimpse into the investigation of Susan Powell's disappearance. First, this investigation has been going on for more than two years without any discernible progress. Second, significant taxpayer funded resources have been expended in this investigation. Citizens deserve to know how their money is being spent," said Orme.
"Third, the only individual named by police as a person of interest has killed himself and has killed two innocent children along the way. This all argues for West Valley City to open up its investigative documents to see how this process has been handled."
The Tribune argued that people are entitled to a general idea of how taxpayer money was spent. He also said that some records should no longer be protected from disclosure because Josh Powell is dead.
Clint Gilmore, West Valley City assistant chief prosecutor and police legal adviser, argued that disclosure of the requested records could interfere with the ongoing investigation into Susan Powell's disappearance. He said records can be withheld if release would create a danger of depriving someone of a right to a fair trial or reasonably could be expected to disclose the identity of a source.
Steve Powell, Josh Powell's father, is awaiting trial on voyeurism and pornography charges in Pierce County Superior Court in Tacoma, Wash. Family members of Susan Powell have said publicly that they believe Steve Powell may have been involved in his daughter-in-law's disappearance or knows what happened to her.
Steve Powell became intertwined with his daughter-in-law's disappearance after evidence emerged that he surreptitiously took photos of Susan Powell and kept a stash of photos of him masturbating to the woman's picture. Steve Powell went on national television to declare his love for Susan Powell, which the woman's friends and family described as an obsession. A trial for Steve Powell is scheduled for May 7.