Gabby Petito should have been issued domestic violence citation during traffic stop: Investigation


This police camera video provided by The Moab Police Department shows Gabby Petito talking to a police officer after police pulled over the van she was traveling in with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie (Picture: AP)

An investigation found that Utah police should have issued Gabby Petito a domestic violence citation when responding to a call about a domestic fight between her and Brian Laundrie.

The independent report found that Utah police made ‘several unintentional mistakes’ during that August 12 traffic stop, which became magnified in what became a high-profile missing-persons case.

It also faults officers Eric Pratt and Daniel Robbins for not issuing a citation to Petito after she admitted to hitting her boyfriend first. The report indicated that while she was the aggressor in this situation, she was likely the victim in the broader scope of the relationship.

‘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,’ wrote Captain Brandon Ratcliffe, from the police department in Price, Utah, who prepared the report.

Long before Petito and Laundrie made headlines and their story put a light on issues involving violence and dating, they were stopped by police during their cross-country road trip. The van they’d been traveling in hit a curb near Arches National Park, and Laundrie told the police they got into a minor argument when he climbed into the van with dirty feet.

Bodycam footage taken during the traffic stop in the tourist town of Moab shows a visibly shaken Petito, 22, and raises questions about whether a different police response could have prevented her death weeks later.

Her boyfriend, 23-year-old Laundrie, was the sole person of interest in her disappearance and death, and later died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

During the traffic stop, the couple disputed the allegations of violence, and the officers let them go following a 75-minute-long conversation as long as they spent the night apart.

Utah law says police should cite an aggressor in domestic violence assaults, but in this case, police didn’t cite anyone. Officers on the scene found that the incident was more of a result of a mental or emotional health issue.

One officer who argued against citing Petito said that Laundrie might bail her out of jail and then have ‘more control over her.’

That same officer later told investigators that if he had known Petito was in life-threatening danger he would have taken his own time to follow them, saying, ‘I would have done anything to stop it if I would have known that was coming . . . I am devastated about it.’

The city of Moab said it plans to follow the report’s recommendations, though it also lauded the officer’s ability to show ‘kindness, respect and empathy in their handling of this incident.’

Still, the report recommended improved training, especially in domestic violence investigation, and that the officers involved be put on probation or have existing probation extended.

The head police officer behind the investigation wrote that while it appears Petito was the aggressor in the specific fight Moab police investigated, that wasn’t necessarily the tenor of their relationship.

‘There have been many times in my career where someone who we know from past experience to be a long-term victim of domestic violence, gets arrested for committing an act of domestic violence against their long-term abuser,’ Ratcliffe wrote. ‘It’s very likely Gabby was a long-term victim of domestic violence, whether that be physically, mentally, and/or emotionally.’

The report found that the officers did what they thought was right at the time, and responsibility for Petito’s death lays with her killer alone.

The 22-year-old was reported missing a month after that traffic stop, though her body was discovered the following month on the edge of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. She had died by strangulation.

Her boyfriend, Laundrie, was the only person ever identified by law enforcement officials as a person of interest in her disappearance and death. He was found a month after, dead by a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a swamp near his parents’ home in Florida.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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