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McEntee: West Valley police's baggage mars end of Powell probe

Published May 21, 2013 6:38 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If only a searing scandal about rogue cops hadn't tainted the West Valley City Police Department, there may have been more sympathy for the officers who announced Monday that the active search for Susan Powell, and whoever is responsible for her disappearance, is over.

Susan Powell vanished from her West Valley City home in December 2009 and has never been found. Her husband, Josh Powell, was the only person of interest ever named in the case, and he refused to cooperate with investigators.

And, in February 2012, Josh Powell set off an explosion at his Washington state rental home, killing himself and the couple's two boys, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5.

After all that time and all that investigative work, all that coordination with various state and federal authorities and district attorneys, all those fruitless searches in several states, in mines, deserts, mountains and canyons, the West Valley City Police Department decided it was time to end the active investigation.

In other circumstances, the department and its officers might be heralded as relentless truth seekers who, despite tapping every tactic in the cop manual, just couldn't find Susan or enough evidence to persuade prosecutors to bring charges in her disappearance.

But here we are, still awash in revelations about an apparently rogue narcotics squad that allegedly took shortcuts, mishandled evidence and committed other misdeeds — not least the shooting death of Danielle Willard on Nov. 2 by two detectives in a low-level drug bust.

In announcing the end of the active Powell probe, West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle said the 3 ½-year operation was a "long and arduous struggle. It's time to do it. There are no active leads."

But, he added, if any new, credible leads appear, "we will pursue them ourselves."

The department also released a huge cache of documents produced by the investigation, including those previously sealed by court order.

Meantime, so many elements of the Powell case remain opaque. Did Josh Powell's brother, Michael Powell, have a role in Susan's disappearance? Investigators suspected he did but he, like Josh, took his own life.

"With suicides," said Deputy Chief Mike Powell (no relation), "many details have left this world with them."

It may be that, in time, a casual explorer will find Susan's remains. If nothing else, that would give some comfort to the families and friends who loved her.

In the meantime, the West Valley City Police Department has some soul-searching to do. The reckoning that will come after the completion of the investigation into its drug unit is inevitable.

And Willard's parents, Melissa Kennedy and Fred Willard, may find their own kind of peace in knowing what really happened to the daughter they both loved.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter: @Peg McEntee.






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