CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Wrongful death lawsuit in murder of Susan Powell’s sons continues

Feb 19, 2020, 11:51 PM

Former Washington child protective services social worker Jane Ramon answers questions from attorne...

Former Washington child protective services social worker Jane Ramon answers questions from attorney Anne Bremner in Pierce County Superior Court on Feb. 19, 2020.

TACOMA, Wash. — One by one, attorney Anne Bremner walked through a list of nearly 50 “red flags” that preceded the killings of Charlie and Braden Powell, Susan Powell’s sons, at the hands of their father eight years ago.

Expert testimony marked day two of a wrongful death lawsuit involving the two young boys in a Tacoma courtroom.

The list began with perhaps one of the most telling indicators of the potential for future violence in the Powell family: the disappearance of Josh Powell’s wife, Susan, from the couple’s home in West Valley City, Utah on Dec. 7, 2009.

Red flags and Susan Powell’s sons

“Why was this [a] red flag?” Bremner asked in Pierce County Superior Court on Wednesday.

Jane Ramon, an expert witness called to testify by the legal team representing Susan Powell’s parents Chuck and Judy Cox, offered her answer to the jury.

“Because there’s questions, certainly, as to why the disappearance of these little boys’ mother and what has occurred and has there been any violence to that person in the midst of the disappearance,” Ramon said. “Or is it a murder?”

Josh Powell took his sons and left Utah less than two weeks after Susan Powell’s disappearance, taking up residence with his father, Steve Powell at his home in South Hill, Washington. They were still living there in August of 2011, when police served a search warrant at the home seeking evidence including Susan Powell’s childhood journals.

The following month, Pierce County deputies arrested Steve Powell because of voyeur videos they’d located in the home. The deputies also took Charlie and Braden into protective custody that same day.

Reunification bias

Susan Powell’s sons were subsequently placed by the state in the care of Chuck and Judy Cox, their maternal grandparents. Josh Powell contested the placement and was attempting to regain custody of his sons when, on Feb. 5, 2012, he killed them and himself during a court-authorized visitation.

In their lawsuit, the Coxes have accused state social workers of acting with negligence toward the safety of the boys. Their attorneys contend the state prioritized reunification of children in protective custody over their personal safety.

Ramon called that “reunification bias” on the stand, saying Washington Department of Social and Health Services records from the Powell case exhibited it, “shockingly so.”

Expert witness

Ramon is the first witness to testify in the long-delayed trial, which could last into March. She previously worked for the state of Washington’s child welfare agency. The Cox’s legal team called her to testify as to the “standard of care” typically owed by social workers in child dependency cases.

In court, Ramon pointed to numerous places where she believed Washington’s handling of the Powell case was deficient. Those included a failure to flag the Powell case as one of domestic violence.

“Is murder a form of domestic violence?” Bremner asked.

“The ultimate form,” Jane Ramon replied.

While police did consider Josh Powell the lone suspect in their homicide investigation, detectives never arrested him. Josh Powell was also never charged with any crime related to his wife’s disappearance.

What went right

During cross-examination, an attorney representing the state of Washington, Joseph Diaz, repeatedly pointed Ramon to instances in the record where social workers had collaborated with law enforcement. He also noted West Valley City’s case records were not available to the social workers, due to a court secrecy order in the state of Utah.

“There’s been no evidence presented in this case of any abuse or neglect in Utah of Charlie or Braden,” Diaz said.

Diaz also asked Ramon to offer a list of what she believed the Washington social workers had done right in their dealings with the Powell family. Ramon credited them with coordinating the removals of Charlie and Braden from the home of their grandfather, Steve Powell, as well as with referring them both for therapy.

That praise was undercut though by her final answer to attorney questions.

“Did more things go wrong than went right,” Bremner asked.

“Sadly, yes,” Ramon said.

Resources and related information: 

The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition operates a confidential statewide, 24-hour domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465). Resources are also available online: udvc.org.

Help for people in abusive relationships can be found by contacting:

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Crime, Police + Courts

A barbed wire fence is shown at a utah prison, whose populations are rising quickly...

Heather Peterson

Prison populations are rising locally and nationally

Utah officials say that prison populations in the state are rising at a higher rate than the national average.

11 hours ago

A driver in Draper experienced a medical emergency and passed away at the wheel on Thursday evening...

Derrick Jones

Medical emergency kills driver at the wheel

A driver in Draper experienced a medical emergency and passed away at the wheel Thursday evening, resulting in an accident.

19 hours ago

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, center, sits with her attorney Jason Bowles, left, during the first day of t...

MORGAN LEE Associate Press

Negligence or scapegoating? Trial of ‘Rust’ armorer begins in fatal shooting by Alec Baldwin

Prosecutors sought to pin blame on a movie weapons supervisor for bringing live ammunition on set that contributed to the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by Alec Baldwin during production of the film "Rust."

20 hours ago

Ruby Franke stands with her attorney, Lamar Winward, at her sentencing on Tuesday. Her brother and ...

Emily Ashcraft

Ruby Franke’s parents, brother say Franke was brainwashed

In letters Franke's family said she had isolated herself from them, and they compared her co-defendant Jodi Hildebrandt to a cult leader.

1 day ago

Containers holding frozen embryos and sperm are stored in liquid nitrogen at a fertility clinic in ...

Jessica Lowell

The future of IVF in Utah following the Alabama Supreme Court embryo ruling

One expert says they won't know if Utah would interpret its wrongful death statute the same way Alabama did until a case came up .

1 day ago

Lights on top of a police car....

Amie Schaeffer

2 people killed in West Valley City car accident

Two people were killed when their passenger car collided with a semitruck late Wednesday night in West Valley City.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Wrongful death lawsuit in murder of Susan Powell’s sons continues