The West Valley City Council on Wednesday denied a Salt Lake Tribune records request to release documents related to the investigation of Josh Powell, a person of interest in the case of his wife, Susan Cox Powell, who disappeared Dec. 6, 2009.
"The council decided to uphold the city manager's decision not to release the records," Councilman Corey Rushton confirmed Wednesday.
The council held a Tuesday night discussion on whether or not to release the records, he said. The council unanimously agreed on their decision to deny the request, Rushton said.
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, 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."
Last week, Tribune reporters Aaron Falk and Nate Carlisle appeared before the council to ask that the records be released.
Falk 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 died along with his two young sons in a gasoline-fueled fire at his Graham, Wash., home in February.
"We contend these should be public records," added Carlisle.
Clint Gilmore, West Valley City assistant chief prosecutor and police legal adviser, had 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. Police, however, have never named Steve Powell a suspect in the case.
But 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.
Defense attorneys for Steve Powell have received search warrants and affidavits from West Valley City as part of a request for evidence in the discovery process, court documents show.
That means it is possible that some information denied in The Tribune's record request could become public at Steve Powell's trial.
Orme said Wednesday that The Tribune will consider its options on how to proceed with the denial, including examining possible court action. The Tribune already has a case pending in 3rd District Court involving the release of West Valley City police search warrants sealed by a Utah judge.
Orme noted it is likely that some of the information in the sealed search warrants has already been made public in Washington courts, in the case of Steve Powell and in the aftermath of the investigation into Josh Powell's decision to set ablaze his home.