Moab, UT – Gabby Petito’s family has released a photo she had taken showing injuries to her face just minutes before someone called 911 about a man slapping a woman in a parking lot in Moab in 2021.
The attorneys representing Gabby Petito’s family say the image is a component of their $50 million lawsuit against the Moab Police Department (MPD), who they claim ignored Gabby Petito’s injuries and failed to realize she was a victim, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
“Moab police failed to listen to Gabby, failed to investigate her injuries and the seriousness of her assault, and failed to follow their own training, policies, and Utah law,” the family’s attorney, Brian Stewart, said in a statement after the photo was released.
Gabby Petito never sent the photo to anyone, according to the family’s lawyers.
There is also no indication she ever showed the image to police.
Her family found it on her cell phone after she was murdered.
The attorneys said they don’t know why she took the selfie, but noted they believe she wanted to have a record of her injuries, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The timestamp on the phone showed Gabby Petito took the photo at 4:37 p.m. on Aug.12, 2021, according to the paper.
A witness called 911 two minutes later and reported having seen a woman being slapped by a man in a Moab parking lot, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
Although Moab police were unable to track down the caller, they did later locate a male witness who said he thought Gabby Petito’s boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, had hit her, according to the paper.
The selfie showed a cut beneath her eye, with blood smeared around her eye and on her cheek and the bridge of her nose.
Moab police pulled the couple over at 4:45 p.m. that day – just eight minutes after the 911 call came in, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
Bodycam footage showed her wearing the same necklace and shirt as she was wearing in the selfie.
During her conversation with one of the officers, Gabby Petito said Laundrie had “grabbed” her face that day, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
Bodycam footage showed her putting one hand over her mouth and across her cheek to demonstrate what she said had occurred.
“Did he slap your face or what?” the officer asked.
He grabbed me with his nail, and I guess that’s why it looks — I definitely have a cut right here. I can feel it. When I touch it, it burns,” she responded, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
“Gabby documented the injury and, during the stop, attempted to tell the Moab officers, however, the seriousness and significance this type of assault and injury was completely ignored,” the Petito family’s attorneys said.
Gabby Petito also told police she punched Laundrie in his arm before he grabbed her face.
She said he had taken her phone and attempted to lock her out of the camper van they were living in.
An independent investigator tasked with looking into the police response to the domestic violence incident between Gabby 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, 2022.
The report asserted that if the incident had been handled with strict adherence to the law, Gabby Petito would have been arrested that day, the Daily Beast reported.
“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.
Gabby 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 MPD Officer Daniel Robbins and Officer Eric Pratt did not “enforce the law,” even though they had enough cause to arrest Gabby 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 Gabby Petito and Laundrie – both of whom objected to Gabby Petito being arrested, WSVN reported.
The officers ultimately opted not to arrest Gabby 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 Gabby Petito seemed to have suffered a “mental health break,” FOX News reported.
“Moab Police failed to recognize the violent grabbing of Gabby’s face and obstruction of her nose, mouth, and airways as a critical precursor to her eventual death by strangulation that occurred a short time later,” attorneys for the Petito family claimed. “Moab Police failed to listen to Gabby, failed to investigate her injuries and the seriousness of her assault, and failed to follow their own training, policies, and Utah law.”
The couple continued their cross-country van trip the next day, eventually making their way to Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming.
Gabby 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 Gabby Petito’s van on Sept. 1, 2021, but she was not with him.
He refused to speak with police or Gabby Petito’s family about where he last saw her before he vanished while hiking in a Florida nature reserve on Sept. 14, 2021.
Gabby 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.
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.”
The City of Moab said it believes both officers displayed “kindness, respect and empathy in their handling of this incident.”
Schmidt and Gabby Petito’s father, Joe Petito, have thrown their support behind a Utah bill that would establish a database of domestic violence incidents and calls to police, regardless of whether those incidents resulted in criminal charges, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
Under the measure, officers would be required to run through a series of “Lethality Assessment Program” questions to determine how much danger the victim or potential victim may be in, according to the paper.
“Our daughter, Gabby, died as a result of intimate partner violence that could have and should have been identified by law enforcement using the lethality assessment,” Schmidt said.
The MPD declined to comment about the newly-released selfie, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The agency has not filed a response to the pending lawsuit, but has said it stands behind the actions the officers took that day, according to the paper.
In addition to the $50 million lawsuit against the MPD, Gabby Petito’s family has also sued Laundrie’s parents.
That lawsuit alleged the Laundries stonewalled police and withheld information that could have assisted in the search for Gabby Petito, according to KSTU.
The Petito family further claimed the Laundries assisted their son in avoiding police, thereby inflicting emotional distress on her family.
Laundrie’s parents have denied those allegations.
A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled to take place in May of 2023, with a jury trial slated to begin on Aug. 14, 2023, KSTU reported.
A judge awarded the Petito family $3 million last November in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Laundrie’s estate.
His estate is estimated at just $20,000, Insider reported.
The Petito family’s attorney, Patrick Reilly, said that the $3 million award is “an arbitrary number,” but that any payments they do receive “will help Gabby’s family in their endeavors with the Gabby Petito Foundation,” according to FOX News.