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Gabby Petito’s Family Is Suing Moab Police For $50 Million

Moab, UT – Gabby Petito’s family announced on Monday that they are filing a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Moab Police Department (MPD) and two officers who interacted with her and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, approximately two weeks before Petito was murdered.

The notice of intent filing was filed on Aug. 5 and was announced publicly on Aug. 8, FOX News reported.

The filing specifically named MPD Officer Eric Pratt, Officer Daniel Robbins, former MPD Chief Bret Edge, and former MPD Assistant Chief Braydon Palmer.

The filing alleged Officer Robbins and Officer Pratt failed to properly handle a 911 call about an alleged domestic violence incident between Petito and Laundrie on Aug. 12, 2021, FOX News reported.

“Had the officers involved had training to implement proper lethality assessment and to recognize the obvious indicators of abuse, it would have been clear to them that Gabby was a victim of intimate partner violence and needed immediate protection,” the Petito family’s attorney, Brian Stewart, said in a statement.

Stewart said a previously-unreleased photograph taken of Petito during the investigation showed “a close-up view” of her face, to include blood smeared on her left eye and cheek, FOX News reported.

The photograph allegedly further showed that Petito had been “grabbed across her nose and mouth, potentially restricting her airway,” Stewart added.

According to the filing, Petito called her parents during the traffic stop and they urged her to fly back home so she could get away from Laundrie, FOX News reported.

When they discovered law enforcement was involved, they “accepted Gabby’s assurances that she would continue her trip,” the filing read.

Officer Pratt, who had seniority over Officer Robbins during the investigation, contacted Assistant Chief Palmer during the incident for assistance on how to proceed, according to the filing.

“Chief Palmer instructed Officer Pratt to carefully read the assault statute and decide whether the situation satisfied the statute,” according to the filing. “Officer Pratt Googled the statute. After reading only the first half of the statute, Officer Pratt decided – incorrectly – that Utah law only recognizes assault if the perpetrator intended to cause bodily injury.”

Neither Petito nor Laundrie were arrested that day.

Petito’s body was discovered in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming on Sept. 19, 2021.

An independent investigator tasked with looking into the police response to the domestic violence incident between Petito and Laundrie refused to blame police for her murder but said the officers made “several unintentional mistakes” and recommended they be placed on probation.

The findings of the 102-page independent investigation, conducted by Price City Police Department (PCPD) Captain Brandon Ratcliffe, were released by the City of Moab on Jan. 12.

“The independent agency’s investigative report finds that the officers who responded to the incident made several unintentional mistakes that stemmed from the fact that officers failed to cite Ms. Petito for domestic violence,” the city noted.

The report asserted that if the incident had been handled with strict adherence to the law, Petito would have been arrested that day, the Daily Beast reported.

Petito, 22, admitted she had hit Laundrie, her 23-year-old finance, bodycam footage showed.

“Based on the information provided, in this specific incident, Brian would be the victim with Gabby being the suspect,” the independent investigator said.

Capt. Ratcliffe said Officer Robbins and Officer Pratt did not “enforce the law,” even though they had enough cause to arrest Petito, the Daily Beast reported.

“They responded to a confirmed domestic-violence incident and they had evidence showing an assault had taken place,” the captain wrote. “The statements of all those involved, along with the evidence presented, provided probable cause for an arrest.”

Officer Pratt discussed the potential charges with Petito and Laundrie – both of whom objected to Petito being arrested, WSVN reported.

The officers ultimately opted not to arrest Petito as long as the couple agreed to stay apart for the night to let things calm down.

“[The officers] both believed at the time they were making the right decision based on the totality of the circumstances that were presented,” Capt. Ratcliffe noted.

The officers interviewed witnesses and both parties before determining the incident was not a case of domestic violence, but that Petito seemed to have suffered a “mental health break,” FOX News reported.

Petito and Laundrie continued on their cross-country van trip the next day, eventually making their way to Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming.

Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, said she last spoke with her daughter on Aug. 25, 2021.

Laundrie returned to his family’s North Port, Florida home in Petito’s van on Sept. 1, 2021, but she was not with him.

He refused to speak with police or Petito’s family about where he last saw her before he vanished while hiking in a Florida nature reserve on Sept. 14, 2021.

Petito’s body was discovered in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming on Sept. 19, 2021.

Her death was ruled a homicide by manual strangulation.

Investigators found Laundrie’s skeletal remains at the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park on Oct. 20, 2021, NBC News reported.

They identified his body using dental records and later concluded he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Laundrie admitted in a handwritten confession found in a drybag next to his body that he killed his 22-year-old fiancé.

Laundrie claimed in the note that Petito had fallen into a creek and injured herself while they were visiting Wyoming during their cross-country van trip.

“I ended her life,” he wrote, according to WNYW. “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.”

“From the moment I decided, took away her pain, I knew I couldn’t go on without her,” he added.

Schmidt said the letter was nothing more than Laundrie’s final twisted attempt to paint himself as a hero, TODAY reported.

“It shows that was his character,” Schmidt said. “Even in his last moments he wanted to make sure he looked like the good guy, right? That’s ridiculous. We know how she died.”

She previously tweeted about the so-called confession, noting that “narcissists rewrite history to escape accountability.”

Capt. Ratcliffe refused to blame Moab police for Petito’s death, which occurred several hundred miles away from Moab, weeks after the officers’ encounter with the couple, the Daily Beast reported.

“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,” the report said. “Nobody knows and nobody will ever know the answer to that question.”

Capt. Ratcliffe’s report included an interview with Officer Pratt, who he said was still reeling from the outcome of the case, the Daily Beast reported.

“I’m desperately f–ked over that she got killed. I really am,” he told the captain. “I would have done anything to stop it if I would have known that was coming.”

“If I would have known [Laundrie] was going to murder her, I would have taken vacation to follow them, because I care about people…” Officer Pratt said, according to the Daily Beast. “I would have intervened and citizens arrested him in Wyoming! I would have taken my own time. I would have missed my family to go do that.”

The report recommended both officers be placed on probation for their “unintentional mistakes,” the Daily Beast reported.

The City of Moab said it believed both officers displayed “kindness, respect and empathy in their handling of this incident.”

The MPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday, NBC News reported.

A City of Moab spokesperson said the city would not comment on pending litigation, according to the news outlet.

Stewart said during a press conference on Monday that the lawsuit against the MPD is “part of the family’s broader effort to raise awareness and education, to protect victims of domestic violence and to help make sure that our governmental institutions are held to account and that they are given the resources and training that they need to do their jobs,” FOX News reported.

“We believe that these officers were negligent, and their negligence contributed to Gabby’s death,” Stewart added. “They did not understand the law and did not apply the law properly in Gabby’s situation.”

Just one day before filing the notice, Schmidt announced that her family was honoring Petito’s legacy by making a $100,000 donation to the National Domestic Violence Hotline to help rescue other domestic violence victims.

The donation is being made by The Gabby Petito Foundation as part of the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s push to raise $2 million for its “Hope Can’t Wait” initiative, TODAY reported.

The donation and the lawsuit both came just weeks before the one-year anniversary of Petito’s murder.

Schmidt said the $100,000 donation was made in an effort “to do good for Gabby” by helping other victims of domestic violence, TODAY reported.

“Our story begins because of domestic violence tragedy, and we don’t want to see that happen to anybody else,” she said.

National Domestic Violence Hotline CEO Katie Ray-Jones said the hotline has received nearly twice as many chats and calls this summer in comparison to the same period last year, TODAY reported.

It is not uncommon for victims to have to wait for over 15 minutes to speak with someone.

Ray-Jones said the donation from The Gabby Petito Foundation will help the hotline to hire more staff.

“Every potential call that’s coming in is someone’s life, and that’s how we have to think about this,” Ray-Jones told TODAY. “Time is precious, lives are precious.”

Schmidt said her work with The Gabby Petito Foundation is what has kept her pushing ahead for the past 12 months.

“She touched the world, right?” Schmidt told TODAY. “This whole tragedy that happened is for a higher purpose. That’s what keeps me going.”

“We got a lot of messages and emails from people saying your daughter saved my life, I left because of her,” she added.

The Petito family has also filed a $100,000 lawsuit against Laundrie’s parents, Christopher and Roberta Laundrie.

“While Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt were desperately searching for information concerning their daughter, Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie were keeping the whereabouts of Brian Laundrie secret, and it is believed were making arrangements for him to leave the country,” the lawsuit alleged, according to WFLA.

Steve Bertolino, the attorney representing Laundrie’s parents, later released a statement saying his clients were not obligated to speak to anyone about the case.

“As I have maintained over the last several months, the Laundries have not publicly commented at my direction, which is their right under the law,” Bertolino wrote, according to WFLA.

“Assuming everything the Petitos allege in their lawsuit is true, which we deny, this lawsuit does not change the fact that the Laundries had no obligation to speak to law enforcement or any third-party, including the Petito family,” he added. “This fundamental legal principle renders the Petitos’ claims to be baseless under the law.”

The Petito family is seeking at least $100,000 in damages.

The Laundries attempted to have the civil suit dismissed, but a judge denied their request in June, TODAY reported.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin


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