GABBY Petito’s family has launched a $50m lawsuit against the Moab City Police Department, blaming its officers for “failing to protect” the van-life blogger in a domestic violence call weeks before her murder.
The lawsuit, unveiled by the Petito family’s attorney Brian Stewart on Monday, accuses Moab City PD of a series of negligent failures during an encounter with Gabby and her soon-to-be murderer boyfriend Brian Laundrie on August 12, 2021.
On that day, the department had been altered to a possible domestic dispute between Laundrie, 23, and Gabby, 21, near a supermarket with one witness calling 911 and claiming to have seen a man “slapping” and “hitting” his partner while chasing her up and down the sidewalk.
Body camera footage of the encounter shows a visibly distressed Gabby telling officers she and Laundrie had been “fighting all morning”.
Through floods of tears, she also described how Brian had pushed her, grabbed her face and neck, and left her with a cut on the side of her cheek. In their report, officers acknowledged that she had scratches and red marks on her face and arms.
A smiling Laundrie, meanwhile, issued officers a series of inconsistent statements and told them Gabby “gets worked up sometimes” and that he had been trying to calm her down. He admitted to pushing her and claimed she struck him and scratched his face.
After more than an hour, one of the officers is heard concluding that Gabby was the “primary aggressor” of the dispute, with another directly telling Brian he is a “victim of domestic assault.”
No charges were filed, and at officers’ instructions, the couple separated for the night. Petito stayed in their van and Laundrie was escorted to a nearby motel frequently used for domestic abuse survivors.
Just over two weeks later, Gabby Petito was strangled to death by Laundrie at a campsite near Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park.
In their lawsuit, the Petito family accuses Moab Police, Assistant Chief Braydon Palmer, attending officers Eric Pratt and Daniel Robbins, and several other department employees of a series of “wrongful acts and neglect” which ultimately failed to protect Gabby from Laundrie, leading to her eventual death.
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Those alleged wrongful acts include failing to “understand and enforce the law of the State of Utah, [and] to investigate Brian’s self-evidently false claims during their interviews with him.”
The Petitos also charge that Moab police failed to “properly train the officers to investigate domestic violence situations, and to properly assess the circumstances, including to identify Brian as the true primary aggressor.”
‘INDICATORS OF ABUSE’ MISSED
According to the suit, the officers failed to “recognize the obvious indicators of abuse” when they interviewed an almost inconsolable Petito in the back of a squad car.
Had they noticed the apparent indicators, “it would have been clear to them that Gabby was a victim of intimate partner violence and needed immediate protection,” the suit states.
Additionally, the Petitos reference an apparent additional image of Gabby, that has not yet been released publicly, which they claim shows blood smeared know her cheek and left eye, revealing “the violent nature of Brian’s attack.”
“The photo shows that Gabby’s face was grabbed across her nose and mouth, potentially restricting her airway,” claims the suit.
The filing further claims that, when answering questions about her fight with Laundrie, Gabby displayed to officers all the “classic hallmarks of an abused partner” that they apparently did not pick up on.
“[Gabby was] attempting to take the blame for the fight because she had hit Brian first and did not want to be separated from him,” reads the suit.
“Whether for lack of training or refusal to follow their training, the officers did not press further.”
The apparently missed signals were succeeded by a misapplication of Utah state law, according to the Petitos.
After designating Laundrie as the likely victim of the dispute, officer Eric Pratt initially explained to the couple that he was required to charge Gabby and take her to jail, but the pair pleaded for another way to resolve the issue.
Pratt then called Assistant Cheif Palmer seeking guidance on how to best proceed, who responded by advising him to carefully read the state’s assault statute which he Googled and allegedly only read half of.
“Officer Pratt [then] decided – incorrectly – that Utah law only recognizes assault if the perpetrator intended to cause bodily injury,” claims Gabby’s family.
“Based on that incomplete and incorrect understanding of the law, Officer Pratt questioned Gabby about whether she intended to cause Brian bodily injury when she hit him. Gabby said no.”
Ultimately, officers Pratt and Robbins decided to separate the pair for the night and pursue no further action, with Pratt suggesting that if the couple later found each other it “wouldn’t be the officer’s responsibility.”
While she was sitting in the back of the police car, Gabby was reportedly on the phone with her parents, who were demanding that she fly home to “get away from Brian”, offering to pay to fly her flight.
“But upon learning the police were involved, they accepted Gabby’s assurances that she should continue her trip,” says the suit.
As a direct result of the police’s alleged failures, the Petito family said their “daughter was brutally murdered” just over two weeks later.
Citing a series of personal losses to both sets of parents, in addition to the physical and emotional harm suffered by Gabby, the Petitos are seeking $50million in damages from Moab PD.
INVESTIGATOR: COPS ‘BUNGLED’ CALL
The department has not yet issued a statement regarding the wrongful death lawsuit.
The filing comes several months after an independent review of the police’s fateful encounter with Gabby and Brian found that the officers involved made several mistakes.
Price City, Utah, police Capt. Brandon Ratcliffe, who conducted the review, said the officers failed to cite Petito for domestic violence, misinterpreted Utah’s assault code, failed to take photographs of her injuries, and neglected to contact the 911 caller who reported seeing Laundrie slap Petito, among other issues.
Those mistakes, however, were not intentional, and it’s impossible to assess what impact they may have had on Gabby’s death, Ratcliffe added.
“The officers did not know what they were doing was wrong at the time and did not make the decision to benefit themselves in any way,” Ratcliffe wrote.
“They both believed at the time they were making the right decision based on the totality of the circumstances that were presented.”
‘AN INSTITUTIONAL FAILURE’
Announcing the suit on Monday, one of the Petitos’ attorneys, James McConkie, said the family has additional evidence in the case which has not yet been unveiled.
But once those findings are, McConkie said it will “clearly show that if the officers had been properly trained and followed the law, Gabby would still be alive today.”
“Failure to follow the law can have deadly consequences, as it did in this case,” McConkie added, pointing out that Moab PD “has been plagued by high turnover, lack of leadership, and dangerous mismanagement for years.
“Despite these chronic problems with protecting victims of domestic violence in their community, the Moab City Police Department has neglected its duty to provide the training and resources its officers need to do their job.
“This is an institutional failure plain and simple.”
Brian Stewart, one of the lead attorneys on the case, added: “We agree with the findings of the independent investigation that the Moab City police officers failed in their duty to protect Gabby.
“Due to [a] lack of training and access to critical domestic violence resources, the officers failed to properly investigate the reported domestic assault and, thus failed to fully appreciate or respond to Gabby’s life-threatening situation.”
Mr. Stewart continued: “The Petito family believes that it is important as a society to hold our governmental institutions to account for such failures and to work toward changes to protect victims of domestic abuse and violence and prevent such tragedies in the future.”
As previously reported by The US Sun, one of the officers involved in the fateful encounter last year, Eric Pratt, previously appeared on a podcast in which he admitted to hating his job and using “loopholes” in the law to help people escape charges.
Pratt, a former police chief who now works patrol for Moab PD, discussed his police career on the Books In Heinessight Podcast in 2019.
During the broadcast, he revealed he quit as Chief of Salina County two years earlier, before going back into the profession despite hating his line of work.
He then quit a second time while working for Moab Police Department – but appears to have returned to law enforcement yet again before being thrown into the spotlight in the Petito case.
Pratt says there were many reasons he became “disillusioned” with police work, explaining in Salina he had to think more about legislation and how politics affected his department.
“When the curtain got lifted and I got to see how everything’s going, why things are the way they are, I started to realize nobody really has the answers, we’re all kind of clueless,” he said.
“The people who we put in place, they’re just like us. And so you start to have to do critical thinking. I think there’s a time in every man’s life when he kind of gets to know who he is and has to think critically.
“I’m a conspiracy guy too when it comes to critical thinking. Sometimes the conspiracy is the best, simplest and most logical answer.
“Long story short, at the same time, I started to just kind of think ‘wow, why is this law this way’, because if I go and enforce that law, I’m going to have this impact on this person’s life, and it’s my job to do it.
“Is there another way I can enforce this law that’s lesser or more appropriate to this situation? Or more severe or more appropriate for this situation?”
He admitted: “Some days I felt like a glorified tax collector for the state.
“You know, I grew up in a very poor family, I grew up with parents who couldn’t always register their car on time, two or three months out.
“I used to pull people over for no insurance, and I was supposed to impound their vehicle,” he said, insisting if it was because of financial reasons a $400 ticket and an impound didn’t help.
He went on: “I’d find my own loopholes, perfectly legal and I think very just loopholes.
“For example, I’d tell the person, hey, this stop is going to take me about 15 to 17 minutes, if nothing else arises.
“If you could call an insurance company and get insurance over the phone and get it right now, most people can do that for under $100, and if you can show me proof of it and I can confirm it because this stop is over, I won’t submit the citation and I won’t impound your car and you can drive away.”
LAUNDRIE CONFESSION ‘RIDICULOUS’
Gabby’s mom Nichole Schmidt broke down in tears during an interview with NBC last week as she discussed Laundrie’s “ridiculous” notebook confession about the killing.
Laundrie, who killed himself with a bullet to the head days after Gabby’s body was found, wrote in a notebook that he had murdered her because he thought she wanted him to.
According to his final scrawlings, Laundrie killed Gabby after she injured herself walking along a river, though there is no evidence to support the claim.
Calling the account laughable, Schmidt suggested that Laundrie was attempting to save face and re-write history to paint himself as some kind of hero before taking his own life.
“That was his character, even in his last moments,” Nicole Schmidt told NBC News. “He wanted to make sure he looked like the good guy. That’s ridiculous. We know how she died.”
Last month, the Laundrie family lawyer Steven Bertolino released images of pages from the 23-year-old killer’s notebook.
“I ended her life,” Laundrie wrote in one passage.
“I thought it was merciful, that it is what she wanted, but I see now all the mistakes I made.
“I panicked. I was in shock. But from the moment I decided, took [sic] away her pain, I knew I couldn’t go on without her.”
Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie had been traveling around the western US in their converted van, documenting their travels on YouTube, at the time of Gabby’s murder.
Gabby stopped contacting her family in late August. Concerns were heightened on Sept. 1 when Brian returned home to Florida in their van but without Petito.
Ten days later, the Petito family reported her missing.
Her body was then found on September 19 in a wooded area near Grand Teton National Park, a few days after Laundrie vanished from his parents’ North Port, Florida, home.
A several-week search ensued before Brian’s skeletal remains were found at a nearby nature park, along with his backpack and notebook.
Coroner’s determined he’d died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org.
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