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The police officer who pulled over Gabby Petito once allegedly threatened to kill his girlfriend

The police officer who pulled over Gabby Petito once allegedly threatened to kill his girlfriend

In police body camera footage, Eric Pratt speaks with Brian Laundrie after Pratt and Daniel Robbins stopped Laundrie and Petit on August 12, 2021.

In police body camera footage, Eric Pratt speaks with Brian Laundrie after Pratt and Daniel Robbins stopped Laundrie and Petit on August 12, 2021.

On Thursday, the parents of Gabby Petito filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Moab, Utah Police Department, specifically naming the two officers who stopped Petito and her then-boyfriend Brian Laundrie on August 12, 2021. The $50 million lawsuit claims that the officers should have recognized the basic warning signs of intimate partner violence, which was able to save Petit’s life about a month before Laundrie killed Petit at a camp in Wyoming. The lawsuit also reveals a bombshell allegation that one of the officers, Eric Pratt, was “fundamentally biased” against Petit because while he was police chief in another small town in Utah, the woman claims he threatened to kill her while they were having sex in 2017

According to body camera footage of Petit’s encounter with Pratt, despite police being called by a witness who claimed to have seen Laundrie slap Petit, Pratt and his partner Daniel Robbins believed I ask “prevailing aggressor” and threatened to put she In the prison. Pratt then told her and Laundrie that victims like Laundrie “end up getting worse and worse and then they end up being killed.” Instead of jailing Petit, the officers issued the pair a warning and separated the couple by paying to put Laundrie up in a hotel while Petito slept alone in the couple’s van, in the midst of an apparent mental health crisis. Not at any time whether Pratt or Robbins spoke to or checked with the witness who saw Laundrie hit Petit, or other witnesses who saw the couple arguing. A month later, Petito was found dead, and shortly thereafter, Laundrie wrote a note admitting that she had killed her and died by suicide.

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Now, according to a lawsuit filed by Petit’s parents, Nicole Schmidt and Joseph Petit, one woman says Pratt, while he was police chief in Salina, Utah, in 2017, threatened to kill her while they were dating. The Salt Lake Tribune interviewed the woman, who is unnamed in the lawsuit and the story, as well as her co-workers and friends who confirmed the relationship and that she told them about Pratt’s threats. When the woman found out that Pratt was seeing other women, she threatened to expose their relationship; later, in a grocery store parking lot, she says Pratt pulled her over using a police siren attached to his personal truck. While her child was sitting in the back of the car, she claims Pratt threatened to kill her with a crowbar if she told anyone.

Police body camera footage of Gabby Petito after Moab, Utah, officers confronted her and Brian Laundrie.

Police body camera footage of Gabby Petito after Moab, Utah, officers confronted her and Brian Laundrie.

The woman said she ended up blogging about Pratt and his various relationships at the time, thinking it would be too suspicious for him to kill her if she publicly shared his claims about other women, but deleted the blog a year later. Pratt eventually resigned, telling the mayor of Salina he was burned out, and took jobs with police departments in Gunnison Valley, Utah, and then Moab. A year after Pratt threatened her, the woman says he reached out to “clear the air” between them; according to the lawsuit, she recalled him telling her that if they had met a week earlier, he still would have been too angry to see her: “I’d be digging a grave and you’d be in it.”

Saline Mayor Dustin Deaton said Tribune that the woman had spoken to him about Pratt’s behavior and threats to her. Deaton, who personally named Pratt’s police chief, questioned whether Pratt was in uniform or using a police vehicle while making any of the alleged threats. When the woman said no, Deaton told the newspaper he determined her complaints were more of a personal issue that did not require intervention. Deaton went on to say that he continued to stand by Pratt and believed that he “handled the Petito case as well as any officer could.”

Petit’s parents’ lawsuit further points to Pratt’s quotes about being disillusioned with police work and hating his job.

Photo: Octavio Jones (Getty Images)

Photo: Octavio Jones (Getty Images)

When they announced the lawsuit in August, Nicole Schmidt, Petit’s mother, described watching police body cam footage of the fatal traffic stop in Moab as “very painful” at a press conference. “If the police officers had been properly trained and followed the law, Gabby would still be alive today,” James McConkie, an attorney representing the family, said. he said in a statement at the time. At a news conference, McConkie said there were “clear signs that were evident that morning that Gabby was a victim and needed immediate help” and accused the Moab Police Department of having “chronic issues protecting” victims of domestic violence and failing to train police officers to support them. The police misconduct in Petit’s case, he said, stemmed from “one and simple institutional failure.”

To McConkie’s point, Petit’s story is particularly heartbreaking, as it largely presents an “institutional failure” and systemic problems with policing as a response or solution to gender-based violence. If the allegations against Pratt are true, he is not an anomaly—studies in the 1990s found that at least 40% of police officers responded to a survey by self-reporting as domestic abusers. One in 2020 survey found that 24% of women who called the police to report intimate partner violence or sexual assault say the police responded with threats or actually arrested them, falsely identifying them as the primary aggressor.

Along with the lawsuit against Moab, Petit’s parents also launched a charitable foundation in Petit’s name to help victims of intimate partner violence and missing persons and advocate for better law enforcement training and cultural change regarding intimate partner violence. All the money they get from the lawsuit against Moab will go to the foundation.

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