Petito’s family claims that the Moab Police Department could have prevented their daughter’s death if they’d asked more questions during an August, 2021, traffic stop.
The family of Gabby Petito has announced that they plan to file a lawsuit against the police department of Moab, Utah, where Petito and her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, were questioned after an alleged domestic dispute on August 12, 2021.
Shortly after the Moab Police Department’s brief investigation, Petito went missing.
Last September, Petito’s body was discovered in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming.
Laundrie, who returned to his parents’ Florida home after Petito’s disappearance, was later found dead in a Florida wildlife reserve. Investigators have since announced that they found a note near Laundrie’s corpse, admitting responsibility for the murder of the aspiring travel influencer.
In a press release announcing the lawsuit, an attorney for the Petito family said that officers from the Moab Police Department “failed to properly investigate the reported domestic assault, and thus failed to fully appreciate or respond to Gabby’s life-threatening situation.”
“While the full evidence has not yet been made public, when it is released, it will clearly show that if the officers had been properly trained and followed the law, Gabby would still be alive today,” attorney James McConkie said in the statement. “Failure to follow the law can have deadly consequences, as it did in this case.”
ABC News reports that attorneys representing Joseph and Tara Petito issued a notice of claim to Moab, in which they stated they are seeking an estimated $50 million in damages.
According to ABC News, body camera images from the August 12th incident show both Petito and Laundrie speaking to a Moab police officer after Petito’s 2012 Ford Transit was pulled over.
In one of the body camera images, Petito appearsa to be crying.
The couple told police that they had been arguing, and that Petito had slapped Laundrie. They also stated that Laundrie had not hit or otherwise physically harmed Petito.
Police labeled the incident as a “mental/emotional break” rather than a domestic assault.t
The Moab Police Department later said they had been unable to establish probable cause to detain Laundrie or press criminal charges against him.
The brief encounter, says ABC News, took place approximately two week before Petito last contacted her family.
ABC News notes that an independent report, issued in January 2020, found that Moab police had made several, minor mistakes, including not issuing a domestic violence citation to Petito or taking a statement from a 9-1-1 caller who had said they had seen a man matching Laundrie’s description slapping a woman.
“Would Gabby be alive today if this case was handled differently? That is an impossible question to answer despite it being the answer many people want to know,” Price Police Department Capt. Brandon Ratcliffe wrote in the report. “Nobody knows and nobody will ever know the answer to that question.”
Moab later issued a statement saying that the murder case had prompted them to overhaul their domestic violence investigation procedures.
“As the Moab City Police Department continues its daily mission to serve our community, efforts are underway to provide additional resources and tools to assist them in addressing domestic violence incidents,” a Moab spokesperson said in a statement. “Plans are in place to add a trained domestic violence specialist to oversee incidents investigated by Moab officers. We also will implement added and ongoing training and testing to ensure that the officers understand policies and procedures.”
Brian Stewart, another attorney for the Petito family, said that his clients hope their lawsuit can help “prevent such tragedies” from happening in the future.
“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,” Stewart said.