Tacoma, Wash. • The husband and parents of a missing Utah mother will square off again Wednesday in a custody dispute over two young boys at the heart of what a judge has described as an "extraordinary situation."
The state's Child Protective Services on Tuesday temporarily placed the children of Susan Cox Powell with her parents. An assistant attorney general confirmed they will remain there pending the outcome of the ongoing custody battle.
On one side: Josh Powell, who said he had nothing to do with his wife's disappearance nearly two years ago and has since provided a happy, healthy and secure environment for their sons while living in his father's Puyallup, Wash., home.
On the other: Chuck and Judy Cox, who believe Josh Powell is responsible for their daughter's disappearance. They also argue their grandsons were exposed to harm being in the same home as Steve Powell, their paternal grandfather who is now jailed and awaiting trial on voyeurism and child pornography charges.
Assistant Attorney General John Long told Pierce County Superior Court Judge Kathryn J. Nelson on Tuesday that Josh Powell also is the "subject of a child pornography and voyeurism investigation." Police have said they are trying to determine whether Josh Powell or either of his two other siblings living in the Puyallup home knew about or participated in their father's activities.
No charges had been filed against Josh Powell as of Tuesday.
Josh Powell, who is representing himself in the custody proceedings, told the judge Tuesday there was no basis for such allegations.
"There is no clear and present danger to my sons," Josh Powell said, offering to take parenting classes and enter his boys and himself in counseling if the judge deemed it necessary.
His voice breaking at times, Josh Powell described himself as a superior parent who has provided father-son activities and worked to make sure his children have a stable, loving home.
"I had no knowledge of any wrongdoing or any indication that there could be wrongdoing on my father's part, nor did anyone else in our house," he said, adding that he makes sure his sons do not have access to anything inappropriate.
Pierce County Sheriff's deputies arrested Steve Powell, Josh's father, on Thursday after confiscating 15 computers and other items during an Aug. 25 search of his home. At the same, police took custody of the two boys, ages 4 and 6.
Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, reiterated Tuesday that investigators are continuing to review thousands of images of young girls and women Susan Powell among them found at the home in the quiet Country Hollow subdivision.
Josh Powell is a person of interest in the case, as is everyone else who lives in the house, he said.
"We have not ruled anyone else in or out except the boys," he said.
The Coxes filed a petition for custody of their grandsons the morning after Steve Powell's arrest. Their attorney, Steve Downing, acknowledged Tuesday it had been prepared long ago in anticipation of just such an event.
The motion asks the judge to give the Coxes custody, appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of the boys, order them to receive counseling and bar contact with their father.
A hearing had been set for the custody case on Wednesday, but was moved with little advance notice to Tuesday. Nelson initially said she didn't have jurisdiction in the case but, following a brief morning recess, proceeded after state attorneys apparently arranged placement of the boys with the Coxes.
Downing told the judge that, in addition to believing Josh Powell is directly responsible for their daughter's disappearance, his clients contend he has never done one thing to look for Susan.
"My clients have never stopped looking for Susan," he said.
Downing pointed to the winter camping trip Josh Powell has said he took his sons on the night of his wife's disappearance as an example of neglectful behavior, along with his failure to get them into counseling and his decision to share a home with his father, who was deeply into pornography.
"It is his own behavior that has created suspicion of himself and his own conduct that has led so many people to express concerns about that behavior," Downing said.
He said Josh Powell's lack of cooperation with law enforcement was notable.
"My clients are concerned that if he can turn on his wife, when might he turn on his children?" Downing said. "These children need to be in a safe place."
Josh Powell said his father has not been able to post bail, set at $200,000, and will not be coming home any time soon. Should that happen, he said, he will move out of the house.
He denied being uncooperative with police and also repeated that he had nothing to do with his wife's disappearance on Dec. 7, 2009, from their West Valley City home.
"I did not harm her," he said. "I did not have anything to do with her disappearance. ... And I love my wife Susan."
Josh Powell said that if he had any clue as to what happened to his wife, he would come forward and produce it.
"I support any effort to find my wife from anyone who is willing," he added.
Josh Powell said that putting his sons with the Coxes, who he said have led a finger-pointing campaign against him, would be the worst possible outcome for them.
Josh Powell in court recounted a supervised visit with his sons Monday at a Child Protective Services office. He said their behavior showed they've experienced irreparable harm since being taken from him.
His oldest son cried, Josh Powell said, and asked, "Why can't I come home, when can I come home?"
The Coxes, he added, have no bond with the boys beyond intermittent visits.
"I'd like that to change, but the situation needs to cool down," Josh Powell said.