One year after the deaths, the murders of two young boys by their father in Graham were the subject during a hearing in Olympia on legislation aimed at trying to “prevent tragedies like this” from happening.
State Sen. Randi Becker, whose Second District includes the Graham and Eatonville areas, was among those testifying in support of the legislation she introduced to implement the recommendations of the state-appointed Child Fatality Review Team that investigated the way the state handled the custody cases of Charlie Powell, 7, and Braden Powell, 5. The brothers were killed by their father, Josh Powell, at his Graham-area home Feb. 5, 2012.
Senate Bill 5315 calls for new safeguards for child dependency situations. It would require the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to consult with law enforcement officials before allowing visitation of children by a parent when there is an active criminal investigation. The proposed legislation also specifies that DSHS must reassess visitation policies if a psychosexual evaluation has been ordered for a parent, and requires caseworkers in child services to receive ongoing domestic violence training.
A public hearing on the bill was held Feb. 4 by the Senate Committee on Human Services and Corrections.
“Nothing we can do will bring the Powell boys back, and we will never be able to account for every situation,” Becker said. “But we owe it to our citizens to make sure the state is doing everything in its power to prevent tragedies like this, and this bill is one step forward.”
Becker was a member of the review panel that concluded social workers should have talked to police and taken other steps before allowing the Powell boys to visit their father at his residence. In a report issued last August, the panel said a police investigation of Josh Powell in connection with the disappearance and suspected murder of his wife was enough to raise concerns about the potential for domestic violence in the Powell family.
But the committee also concluded that all agencies and individuals involved with the boys’ case demonstrated sufficient concern for the children’s safety and welfare, and that nobody could have anticipated the killings.
Authorities say Josh Powell locked a social worker out of the house, then attacked his sons with a hatchet and started a fast-burning fire that killed all three of them during a scheduled, state-approved visit.
Children’s Administration, a division of DSHS, is required by law to conduct a review when children in the agency’s system die or suffer near-fatal injuries as the result of abuse or neglect.
The Powell boys. under a Pierce County Superior Court order, were in the foster care of their Puyallup-area grandparents, Chuck and Judy Cox, while courts were deciding whether the siblings could be returned to their father.
Josh Powell and the boys moved from Utah to Pierce County following the disappearance in 2009 in Utah of Susan Powell, the mother of the boys. Authorities believe she was murdered, though her body hasn’t been found. Suspicion focused increasingly on Josh Powell, who refused to cooperate with police in their investigation.
Susan Powell was the daughter of Chuck and Judy Cox.
Josh Powell, who was ordered by a judge to undergo a psychological evaluation, tried to regain custody of the children. Several days before the deaths, the court ordered him to undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation and kept the children in their grandparents’ custody, with supervised visits still allowed.
The committee noted that even though Children’s Administration wasn’t required to – and didn’t – consult with police about moving supervised visits to Powell’s home, such discussions can be “beneficial” in a case such as this in which the parent who’s involved is also the subject of “an open criminal investigation.” Police could provide informatin “that might affect decisions” about the length and location of visits and the need for supervision, the committee stated.
Detectives involved in the criminal investigation of Powell told the committee that they weren’t aware that supervised visits had moved to his home. If the detectives had known, they would have had “concerns,” although they believe decisions about visitation are up to Children’s Administration and courts, the committee reported.
Before living in the house in Graham, Josh Powell and his sons lived with his father, Steven Powell, in the latter’s home near Puyallup. Josh Powell and the boys moved after Steven Powell was arrested and later convicted on voyeurism charges. Evidence against the elder Powell included photographs of neighbor girls that were taken without their knowledge while they were in various stages of undress in their home next door to Steven Powell’s residence.
The review panel, whose members included representatives of DSHS and the criminal justice system, interviewed seven people who worked on the Powell boys’ case and reviewed more than 2,700 pages of documents.