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Moab Police Chief Takes Leave Amid Investigation Into PD’s Handling Of Gabby Petito DV Call

Moab, UT – Moab Police Chief Bret Edge has taken an abrupt, indefinite leave of absence amid an investigation into how his department handled the report of a domestic disturbance between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie just weeks before Petito was found dead.

Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus confirmed Chief Edge took an indefinite period of leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act on Monday, but she did not provide any further details, The Times-Independent reported.

Moab Communications Director Lisa Church refused to answer questions regarding the reason behind Chief Edge’s abrupt leave of absence, including whether or not it was related to the Petito case, according to FOX News.

It is unknown when Chief Edge might return to his post, and the city has not announced who will serve as interim chief of the Moab City Police Department (MCPD) in his stead.

Petito, 22, and Laundrie, 23, began touring U.S. national parks in Petito’s converted camper van in early July.

The MCPD had contact with them on Aug. 12 after receiving a report of a domestic disturbance.

According to an MCPD report, a concerned witness called 911 at approximately 4:30 p.m. that day to report a “possible domestic violence” incident near Moonflower Community Cooperative, FOX News previously reported.

The witness said he saw a man and a woman arguing in the street about a phone.

According to a 911 recording reviewed by the news outlet, the caller reported having witnessed the alleged assault, FOX News reported.

“The gentleman was slapping the girl,” the caller said in the recording.

“He was slapping her?” the dispatcher asked.

“Yes, and then we stopped,” the caller said. “They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car and they drove off.”

Police dispatch radio recordings released by KTSU on Friday revealed the officers who responded to the report were specifically told the reporting party said he saw “a male hit a female.”

Police reports previously released about the incident seemed to indicate the officers who dealt with the couple that day did not know the details provided by the man who said he witnessed the assault.

“RP (reporting party) states a male hit a female. Domestic,” the dispatcher said at approximately 4:38 p.m. on Aug. 12. “He got into a white Ford transit van. Has a black ladder on the back. Florida plate.”

The dispatcher mentioned the assault again after an officer asked for the victim’s location and the witness’ phone number, FOX News reported.

“Phone number is [redacted], name’s [redacted],” the dispatcher responded at 4:42 p.m. “I’m not sure [inaudible], but the female who got hit, they both, the male and the female, both got into the van and headed north.”

Police are required under Utah law to issue a citation or make an arrest whenever they have “probable cause to believe that an act of domestic violence has been committed,” FOX News reported.

Moab police pulled the couple over and spoke with them about the argument.

Petito, who was sitting in the passenger seat, was “crying uncontrollably” when they first made contact with her, the officer noted in the report.

The officers spoke with Petito and Laundrie separately before determining that neither of them had any significant injuries, FOX News reported.

“The driver of the van, a male, had some sort of argument with the female, Gabbie,” one of the officers who responded to the scene noted in his report, according to FOX News.

“The male tried to create distance by telling Gabbie to go take a walk to calm down, she didn’t want to be separated from the male, and began slapping him,” the officer wrote. “He grabbed her face and pushed her back as she pressed upon him and the van, he tried to lock her out and succeeded except for his driver’s door, she opened that and forced her way over him and into the vehicle before it drove off.”

“I have really bad OCD,” Petito said in the bodycam video. “I was apologizing to him saying ‘I’m sorry I’m so mean.’”

“We’ve been fighting all morning,” she said. “He wouldn’t let me in the car before…he told me I needed to calm down.”

One of the officers noted in his report that the argument could be “more accurately categorized as a mental/emotional health ‘break’ than a domestic assault,” according to the news outlet.

“Both the male and the female reported they are in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime,” the report read.

“After evaluating the totality of the circumstances, I do not believe the situation escalated to the level of a domestic assault as much as that of a mental health crisis,” the second officer wrote in the report, according to CNN. “I then determined the most appropriate course of action would be to help separate the parties for the night so they could reset their mental states without interference from one another.”

The couple ended up staying in separate locations for the night to cool down and both had their own cell phones in case of an emergency, the officers noted.

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

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 supposedly 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, but her exact cause of death has not been released.

Police named Laundrie as a person of interest in Petito’s homicide, but investigators have 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.

He has been accused of using a Capital One bank card and someone else’s personal identification number to make unauthorized charges or withdrawals exceeding $1,000, according to the Associated Press.

According to the indictment, the unauthorized use of the card occurred from approximately Aug. 30 until Sept. 1.

The name of the card owner was not listed in the indictment, the Associated Press reported.

The City of Moab has since launched a formal investigation into how the MCPD handled the altercation between Petito and Laundrie.

According to a statement released by the city, the 15-member MCPD has received both positive and negative feedback from the public with regards to the officers’ “response and their resolution of the incident,” CNN reported.

“The Moab City Police Department has clear standards for officer conduct during a possible domestic dispute and our officers are trained to follow those standards and protocol,” the city said. “At this time, the City of Moab is unaware of any breach of Police Department policy during this incident. However, the City will conduct a formal investigation and, based on the results, will take any next steps that may be appropriate.”

The city noted that different individuals may view the same situation very differently, CNN reported.

“We recognize how the death of Ms. Petito more than two weeks later in Wyoming might lead to speculation, in hindsight, about actions taken during the incident in Moab,” the statement read. “The purpose of the City’s formal investigation is to gather the underlying facts and evidence necessary to make a thorough, informed evaluation of such actions.”

Officers will be available to answer investigators’ questions, and the MCPD will hand over any information from the Aug. 12 incident involving Petito and Laundrie to the investigating agencies, the city told CNN.

“We take all complaints seriously and we are committed to fully addressing these concerns,” Chief Edge told the news outlet at the time. “In compliance with police department policy, we will conduct an investigation. The police department will identify an unaffiliated law enforcement agency to conduct the formal investigation on our behalf.”

“Should the investigation identify areas for improvement we will take that information to heart, learn from it, and make changes if needed to ensure we are providing the best response and service to our community,” Chief Edge added.

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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