Earlier this week, Washington jurors determined state officials are partly to blame for the tragic deaths of Charlie and Braden Powell.
Earlier this week, a jury in Washington concluded state officials were at least partially responsible for the “deaths of missing Utah woman Susan Cox Powell’s children at the hands of their father,” Josh Powell. As part of the declaration, the jurors awarded $98 million to the estates of the two children, Charlie and Braden Powell. For those who don’t remember, Josh Powell was accused of killing his wife in 2009 and then his two young sons in an explosive house fire in 2012. Mr. Powell also perished in the explosion. At the time, the boys were visiting their dad at his home in Pierce County, Washington, “on a supervised visit with a social worker when they were killed.” Before killing his sons, Powell locked the social worker outside.
As a result of the tragic incident, Susan Powell’s parents, Charles and Judith Cox filed a wrongful death lawsuit, arguing that Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services “did not do enough to keep their 7- and 5-year-old grandsons, Braden and Charlie, safe.” It’s worth noting that at the time of the explosion, the Coxes were fighting for custody of the two boys. The suit is now seeking millions of dollars in damages.
Court proceedings regarding the matter began back in February in Pierce County Superior Court, though the trial was interrupted by the current coronavirus pandemic. Jurors have only recently begun to deliberate the case. During closing arguments last week, Ted Buck, the attorney representing the Coxes, argued that “state workers weren’t properly trained on policy regarding parental visits in domestic violence situations.” He added, “none of this would have happened had state policies and common sense been followed.” Additionally, he noted that a social worker recognized Josh Powell as an abduction risk, but failed to inform the “judge overseeing the custody dispute.”
Pushing back against Buck’s argument, assistant attorney general Joseph Diaz said that while the boys’ deaths were tragic, “experienced state workers took the custody matter very seriously.” He added, “the department tried to do what was best for both those boys, at the same time recognizing that Mr. Powell had rights.” He said, “Mr. Powell is the sole cause of the murder of his sons…There was not any negligence by the state of Washington.”
Powell moved to Pierce County with his sons shortly after Susan went missing. While searching his house for clues about her whereabouts, investigators “found child pornography, including images that Steven Powell had secretly recorded of neighbor girls.” From there, the two boys were removed from the home and placed in their grandparent’s care. Powell then moved to Graham. Later on, when his sons visited him with a social worker, “he locked the social worker out, attacked the boys with a hatched and then blew up the home with the three of them inside.”