EVERETT — A Snohomish County defense investigator must surrender his license and retire, in exchange for having felony charges of witness tampering dropped, according to new court records.
Charges filed in Snohomish County Superior Court accused longtime investigator Michael Powers, 61, of crossing a legal and ethical line when he strongly hinted to a Monroe assault victim that he could be deported, if he showed up to court to testify. Under an agreement that was reached in October, Powers admitted there’s sufficient evidence to prove the crime, and he agreed to give up his license permanently.
The agreement wasn’t made public until this month, when the charges were officially dismissed with prejudice by Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss.
The victim was a Spanish-speaking immigrant, and he’d been left beaten, bloodied and in need of stitches in an attack by two men outside a 7-Eleven in Monroe in February 2016.
Powers took on the case of one of the defendants through the Snohomish County Office of Public Defense. An investigation dragged on, and in September 2017, Powers talked with the victim in his downtown Everett office, through an interpreter speaking over the phone. The interpreter felt Powers was too insistent in trying to shake the man’s belief in the attacker’s identity — and it made her so uncomfortable she gave an excuse to hang up. A while later, Powers called her again from his office, Washington Legal Works, and left a voice mail.
He told the interpreter that he wanted to know, “just between you and me,” if the man was legally in the United States, because he didn’t want him getting in trouble. On the recording Powers explained that his daughter-in-law is Hispanic.
“So I understand the culture and I don’t want him in trouble for something stupid here,” he said. “All right? … They will yank him and pull him back to Mexico, and he’s got a family here. So I don’t want that happening.”
The victim believed Powers was trying to deter him from showing up to court, he later reported.
In a sworn statement, Powers wrote that, after considering his likely legal defenses, he recognized he could be found guilty of witness tampering, based on the call alone.
His statement doesn’t address a later meeting, where Powers asked the defendant again and again about his immigration status — whether he had a Green Card, whether he was in the country legally, whether he had any restrictions on being in the United States, whether he’d ever been charged with a crime in Mexico — in spite of the prosecutor’s objections.
According to the charges, the defense attorney in the case apologized to the deputy prosecutor after that meeting, saying Powers’ line of questioning had been inappropriate.
Craig Matheson, the chief criminal deputy prosecutor at the time, said the office would never seek to have a victim detained because of immigration status.
State records show Powers had been granted a private investigator license in March 1999.
He was arrested in June 2018.
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks was appointed as a special prosecutor to handle the case against Powers, and the felony charge was filed in September 2019. In the meantime, one attacker pleaded guilty in the original case. The other was found guilty at trial, after a jury heard the victim’s testimony.
Powers agreed to “never again work as an investigator in any capacity and in any way connected to the judicial system, whether as a private investigator, or as an investigator for an entity such as a public or private law firm.”
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.