Charge: Defense investigator pressured victim to not testify

Michael Powers was working with an attorney assigned by the Snohomish County Office of Public Defense.

EVERETT — A Snohomish County defense investigator pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a felony charge of witness tampering.

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks will serve as lead attorney for the state in the case against Michael Powers, 61, who was charged this month with discouraging a victim of assault from showing up to court.

The original report of a crime came in February 2016, when a Spanish-speaking man told Monroe police he’d been beaten, apparently at random, by two men outside of a 7-Eleven.

The man spoke with police in the emergency room of EvergreenHealth Monroe. He’d been left bloodied and in need of stitches. His lip appeared permanently disfigured, according to charging papers.

The case remained in legal limbo for years, pending an investigation.

Powers was working with an attorney assigned by the Snohomish County Office of Public Defense, representing one of the defendants. He spoke with the victim in September 2017, through an interpreter over the phone. Both the victim and interpreter felt his questions were trying to change the man’s belief about an attacker’s identity.

The interpreter grew uncomfortable to the point that she gave an excuse to hang up. The investigator left a voicemail for her a while later, where he suggested the victim could be detained if he testified at trial.

“They will yank him and pull him back to Mexico, and he’s got a family here,” Powers said on the recording, according to charging papers. “So I don’t want that happening.”

Later the man met with the prosecutor and the defense team for an interview. Powers began by asking for the man’s date of birth, how long he’d been in the country, whether he had a Green Card, and whether he was in the country legally. The deputy prosecutor cut in to say the man wouldn’t answer that line of questioning. Over objections from the prosecutor, Powers continued to ask the man if he had any restrictions on being in the country, and if he’d ever been charged with a crime in Mexico, according to the charges.

Once Powers left, the defense attorney apologized to the prosecutor for those questions, the charges say.

A Monroe detective met with the victim of the beating, who told him he felt Powers was trying to scare him to keep him from testifying.

Powers was arrested in June 2018. The chief criminal deputy prosecutor at the time, Craig Matheson, said the office would never seek to have a victim detained because of immigration status.

“That does not happen,” he said. “Ever.”

Until this month, Powers was awaiting a charging decision. Superior Court Judge Jennifer Langbehn did not require him to post bond at his arraignment hearing.

In the meantime, the two suspects in the original case were convicted of second-degree assault for the beating.

One defendant pleaded guilty in February. The other man’s case went to trial in May. Jurors found him guilty as charged, after hearing the victim’s testimony.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; Twitter: @snocaleb.

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