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Independent Investigator Recommends Probation For Cops For Not Arresting Gabby Petito

Moab, UT – An independent investigator tasked with looking into the police response to a domestic violence incident between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie last year has refused to blame police for her murder but said the officers made “several unintentional mistakes” and should 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.

“After a formal complaint was filed with the Moab City Police Department, an independent law enforcement agency has completed a thorough review of the August 12, 2021 domestic violence incident involving Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie,” the city said in a press release.

“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 Moab Police Officer Daniel Robbins and Officer Eric 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.

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, 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.

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

Her death has been ruled a homicide by manual strangulation.

Police named Laundrie as a person of interest in Petito’s homicide, but investigators stopped short of labeling him as a suspect.

The U.S. District Court of Wyoming issued a federal warrant for Laundrie’s arrest on Sept. 22 for use of unauthorized devices, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Denver office announced in a press release.

But by then, Laundrie had disappeared.

During an interview on the Dr. Phil McGraw television show in October of 2021, Petito’s parents and step-parents said the warrant was the result of Laundrie stealing Petito’s bank card and using it “to get home and then [run] from the police,” WAGA reported.

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.

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 says. “Nobody knows and nobody will ever know the answer to that question.”

Capt. Ratcliffe’s report included an interview with Officer Pratt, who is 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 did not address that issue in its statement, but said it “intends to implement the report’s recommendations” with regards to policy and training issues.

“These recommendations include: providing additional training in domestic violence investigation, as well as additional legal training to ensure officers understand state laws and statutes; conducting an overall policy review; conducting a software review; and strengthening the review process for incident reports,” the city noted. “The investigative report also finds that a statement was never obtained from the original 911 caller, and recommends that be done to make the incident report more complete.”

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

“The City of Moab sends our sincere condolences to the Petito family,” the statement concluded. “Our hearts go out to them as they continue to deal with the tragic loss of their daughter.”

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.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin

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