Gabby Petito’s parents are suing Moab police alleging they could have saved her life

Gabby Petito’s parents are suing Moab police alleging they could have saved her life

HLN Investigates will premiere “Toxic Love: The Gabby Petito Tragedy” at 9:00 PM ET/PT on Saturday, November 5.


Parents Gabby Petito filed a $50 million lawsuit against the death City of Moab Police Department on Thursday alleging that its officers were negligent in their interactions with the 22-year-old and her fiance Brian Laundry two weeks before her death last summer.

“The purpose of this lawsuit is to honor Gabby’s legacy by demanding accountability and working for systemic change to protect victims of domestic abuse and violence and prevent such tragedies in the future,” attorney James W. McConkie said in a statement.

The lawsuit accuses the department and its officers of failing to follow the law and protect Petito during a domestic disturbance investigation in August — just weeks before Laundrie killed her. The lawsuit alleges that the officers improperly determined that Petito was the primary aggressor in the interaction and misapplied Utah’s domestic abuse laws. He also accuses the police department of not adequately training its officers on these issues.

At a news conference Thursday, her parents said they filed the lawsuit to ensure police make these changes to help other victims of abuse.

“No one here, the four of us, wants to be here. We would have given up in a second if she had come back,” said her father, Joseph Petito.

“We feel we need to bring justice because she could have been protected that day,” said Nichole Schmidt, her mother. “There are laws in place to protect victims, and those laws were not followed, and we don’t want that to happen to anyone else.”

Gabby Petito's family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in Utah state court against the Moab Police Department.

The city of Moab issued a statement Thursday denying responsibility for her death and saying it would defend against the lawsuit.

“The death of Gabrielle Petito in Wyoming is a terrible tragedy and we feel our deepest sympathy for the Petito and Schmidt families and the painful loss they have suffered. At the same time, it is clear that the officers of the Moab Police Department are not responsible for the possible murder of Gabrielle Petito,” the city said.

The city said its officers “acted with kindness, respect and empathy toward Ms. Petito” during their interactions.

“The Petito family attorneys seem to be suggesting that our officers could somehow see the future based on this one interaction. “In truth, on August 12th, no one could have predicted the tragedy that would occur weeks later and hundreds of miles away, and the city of Moab will vigorously defend itself against this lawsuit,” the city said.

Petito was 22 when she and fiancé Laundrie, 23, embarked on a road trip through the American West last summer, documenting their #VanLife experiences online in idyllic, sun-drenched posts.

Despite their appearance on the Internet, their relationship was difficult and at times violent. Petito was reported missing after Laundrie returned to his parents’ home in Florida on Sept. 1 and her parents were unable to contact her, sparking a nationwide hunt that has become a fascination for online searchers.

Her body was found a few weeks later in the Grand Teton National Forest, aa the coroner ruled that she died of strangulation. Laundrie later went missing in a nature preserve in Florida, and his body was found in mid-October next to a notebook in which he admitted that he killed her.

In August, Petit’s parents filed a lawsuit against the police department, the first step in filing a lawsuit. Her parents also took claim against Laundry’s estate and filed a lawsuit against his parents, accusing them of causing emotional distress by failing to act during the search for Petit.

gabby petito moab city pd new bodycam santiago

New video reveals what Gabby Petito told police

The 35-page lawsuit filed Thursday is based on a traffic stop last August after officers were notified that a witness “saw Brian attack Gabby.”

Police stopped their vehicle — a white Ford van — after it went over the speed limit, suddenly left its lane and hit a curb, according to a police report.

Footage captured by police body cameras shows Moab, Utah, officers talking to Petito and Laundrie, who admitted to an argument in which Petito said she hit her fiance first. Officers noted that Petito had cuts on her face and hand, and she “demonstrated how Brian violently grabbed her face during their argument,” telling police that Laundrie was “very frustrated with me.”

But Petito also “exhibited the classic characteristics of an abused partner,” the filing said, taking the blame for the incident. The officers “did not apply further pressure,” the notice said.

According to the family, a photo taken at the time, which has not been released to the public, “shows a close-up view of Gabby’s face with blood smeared across her cheek and left eye, revealing the violent nature of Brian’s attack.”

Laundrie told police the couple was under increasing stress. He admitted that he pushed Petit away when she tried to slap him and that he took her phone, claiming it wasn’t there – and that he was afraid she would leave it. However, later in the interview, he pulled out his phone and gave officers his number, the lawsuit states.

Despite the cuts and Laundrie’s inconsistencies, one of the officers said Petito must be jailed because, under Utah domestic violence laws, she was considered the primary aggressor and Laundrie the victim.

Both Petito and Laundrie objected, and the officers eventually agreed not to charge Petito if she and Laundrie agreed to spend the night separately.

A review of Moab Police’s handling of the incident by an independent investigator — a captain from the Price, Utah, police department, about 185 miles away — recommended the two responding officers be placed on probation, saying they made “a few inadvertent mistakes” — namely, failing to cite anyone for violence in the family, although there seemed to be just enough evidence to charge Petito.

The investigative report, released in January, recommends new policies for the department, including additional domestic violence training and legal training for officers.

The city did not pursue any potential discipline for the two officers at the time, but said it “intends to implement the report’s recommendations” on new policies for the police department, including additional domestic violence training and legal training for officers.

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