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Susan Powell’s parents awarded $98 million in lawsuit against DSHS

An attorney stands near a photo of Charlie and Braden Powell during court proceedings in 2020. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The parents of Susan Powell were awarded on Friday $98 million in a lawsuit against the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services over their grandsons’ murders.

The state Department of Children, Youth, and Families said it plans to review the jury’s decision and determine next steps.

Josh Powell, Chuck and Judy Cox’s son-in-law, set fire to his home in Graham on Feb. 5, 2012, with the two young boys inside. Charlie and Braden Powell were inside for a supervised visit with their father when the home exploded into flames.

Charlie and Braden were living with their grandparents, the Coxes, when they were killed. Their mother, Susan, was reported missing on Dec. 6, 2009, by Josh, who told police he took the boys camping in the Utah desert that night. He said his wife was gone when he returned home. A custody battle ensued as investigators closed in on Josh Powell as a suspect.

Attorney Ted Buck told jurors as opening arguments got underway at the Pierce County Courthouse in February 2019 that the state was obligated to the Powell boys in two ways that day seven years ago.

“First, they owed them the obligation of having a supervisor who was trained and capable of doing the job of being able to intervene for the benefit of saving these boys,” Buck said.

“Second, the state owed these boys an obligation to have this visitation at a place that was safe, that ensured their safety,” Buck continued, pointing repeatedly to the fact that visitation had been moved from a secure facility to Josh Powell’s Graham home, where he had all the control.

On that day when the social worker arrived to bring the boys for their visit, Josh Powell was able to grab them and get them inside the home while locking the social worker out of the home.

“He took a hatchet, … he struck those boys again, and again, and again,” Buck explained.

Buck went on to explain that Charlie and Braden, while both injured from the attack, were still conscious lying on the floor.

“Their own father, the man who the state believed was an imminent risk to them, took gasoline and poured it on them, poured it on their faces,” Buck said, explaining in detail how their dad doused the entire home in gasoline and then lit it on fire, causing the home to erupt in flames, killing Josh and the boys.

Buck argued DSHS failed to meet its obligation to protect the boys under their care and custody that day, and instead delivered them without warning to their father’s house.

Lori Kooiman, the attorney representing DSHS, countered in her opening remarks in February that all involved were aware of the bad blood between Josh and the Cox family with both sides slinging allegations at the other.

She also explained that DSHS does not have the authority to go take kids out of homes because it wants to, and in fact must follow strict state law, which leans heavily in the direction of keeping kids with their parents, or working to reunite them with their parents.

MyNorthwest’s Stephanie Klein contributed to this report.

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