The travails of Josh Powell, who is a “person of interest” in his missing wife Susan’s case, have been all over the local media in the Seattle area. Powell moved to Washington state shortly after his wife went missing in 2009. In these cases, spouses are naturally suspected, so Powell has been under a great deal of scrutiny for the last couple years, but so far absolutely no physical evidence has emerged to suggest that he harmed his wife, and without a body there’s no conclusive evidence a crime was even committed.
Most recently, police arrested his father in a peeping tom investigation, following cooperation with West Valley Utah police to put pressure on Josh. His father, Steve Powell, has allegedly been taking naughty pictures of women and girls for some time.
In the wake of Steve Powell’s arrest for voyeurism, Josh’s children were removed from his custody, because they lived with Josh together with Steve, but the local media is reporting that the children have been removed because their father is under scrutiny in the missing person case. Although family courts have a great deal of leeway in taking children from parents, the legal reason for the removal of the kids is likely Steve Powell’s arrest, as allowing police to essentially kidnap children when they merely suspect someone of a crime (and Josh has never even been named a suspect) would be too blatant an abuse of police power.
Nevertheless, removing the kids even for that reason is going too far, as Josh has neither been arrested nor charged with anything.
What appears to have happened recently is that Steve Powell, who worked for the Department of Corrections before his arrest, was sticking his thumb in the eye of the police. He had access to Susan Powell’s diary, and was threatening to publish portions of it. He involved himself in the investigation, invited media attention, and generally acted in a provocative manner toward the cops. Police tend to hang together, so local police in Pierce County cooperated with Utah’s West Valley PD to stick it to him, raiding his house and seizing his computers, in which they allegedly found illicit photos.
Cops really don’t like it when people make them look bad, and the failure of the West Valley PD to find anything to pin on Josh Powell in his wife’s disappearance was making some cops look pretty incompetent. Steve Powell was rubbing this in their face, hence the raid.
Now, the police have effectively punished Steve Powell, and they have succeeded in putting enormous pressure on Josh, who is broke, and given his reputation has no chance of finding work. In showing up at the custody hearing he argued without an attorney, and the judge, naturally, turned custody over to his wife’s parents. This is a temporary custody hearing, but when men lose temporary custody hearings, they often turn out to be permanent — especially in Washington state. Furthermore, if Steve Powell is financially drained defending himself, Josh could well end up homeless, which would further complicate any efforts to get his children back.
Although the police went after Steve Powell in part because of his provocative antics, ultimately, the target is his son, Josh. This kind of pressure is designed to induce a confession, so the West Valley PD can achieve their goal of resolving the Susan Powell case. However, these tactics raise serious questions about police power in contemporary society. Should police use child dispossession as an investigation tactic? Should they take sides in custody cases? Cops and prosecutors know that there is no right to an attorney in these cases, so it’s an easy end-run around basic protections.
When looking into “exceptions” to the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, many (if not most) of them are found in family law. Although Josh Powell’s wife’s disappearance could easily lead reasonable people to suspect him, it is exactly these cases that test human rights and civil liberty. All Americans supposedly have the right to due process, a fair trial, and the assumption of innocence. But what does any of this mean if the police can seize one’s children merely for suspicion?
Tyranny has arrived in the guise of protecting women and children.