Gabby Petito case: Review reveals ‘mistakes’ by Utah police

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This police camera video provided by The Moab Police Department shows Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito talking to a police officer after police pulled over the van she was traveling in with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, near the entrance to Arches National Park on Aug. 12, 2021. The couple was pulled over while they were having an emotional fight. Petito was reported missing by her family a month later and is now the subject of a nationwide search. (The Moab Police Department via AP)

MOAB, Utah (NewsNation Now) — Officers in Moab, Utah, made several “unintentional mistakes” when responding to a 911 call about domestic violence involving Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie, a review by an independent law enforcement agency found.

“There were mistakes made in how this case was handled,” the person conducting the review said. “If this case was handled flawlessly, would it have changed anything? Nobody knows.”

The city of Moab on Wednesday released a statement and the review of the Aug. 12 incident, which took place shortly before Petito disappeared. It says the mistakes “stemmed from the fact that officers failed to cite Ms. Petito for domestic violence.”

The review also said, “just because Gabby was determined to be the predominant aggressor as it related to this incident, doesn’t mean she was the long-term predominant aggressor in this relationship.”

During the 911 call, a man told the Grand County Sheriff’s Office that he saw a man slap a woman while walking through the town and proceeded to hit her before the two got in their van and drove off.

“We drove by and the gentleman was slapping the girl,” he said. “They ran up and down the sidewalk, he proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car, and they drove off.”

Later in the day, Moab City police respond to reports of an alleged physical interaction between Petito and Laundrie. Hourlong body camera footage from the investigation shows officers responding to the 911 call with Petito crying “uncontrollably,” saying the pair had been having “little arguments” that day. Authorities said Laundrie told officers the couple had been traveling for four to five months, which “created emotional strain between them and increased the number of arguments.”

On Sept. 30, a bodycam video from a different angle was released that shows Petito telling an officer Laundrie grabbed her jaw, but she hit him “a couple times” first.

Petito and Laundrie reportedly separated for the night, with Petito keeping the van and Laundrie getting lodging assistance from police.

The bodycam footage is from Aug. 12. Sometime around the end of that month, Petito was killed. Her remains were found in Wyoming on Sept. 19.

“I’m desperately (expletive) over that she got killed,” one of the responding officers is quoted saying in the investigative review. “I really am. I would have done anything to stop it if I would have known that was coming.”

In the August police report, Laundrie was listed as the victim. Chief Bret Edge said there was not enough evidence to move forward with any charges.

But the independent law enforcement agency’s investigative report suggests improvements be made to policies and officer training. Some of the recommendations include:

  • More domestic violence investigation training
  • Additional legal training, to make sure officers understand state laws and statutes
  • An overall policy review
  • A software review
  • Strengthening the review process for incident reports

The investigative report also found that a statement was never obtained by the original 911 caller. It recommends that be done so the incident report is more complete.

It also says officers “made a mistake by not reading the entire assault statute as well as misinterpreting the language in the statute.”

The report suggests the officers be put on probation or have it extended, but the city’s statement does not mention whether it plans to move forward with that recommendation.

“Based on the report’s findings, the City of Moab believes our officers showed kindness, respect and
empathy in their handling of this incident,” the city said in the statement, adding that it would hire a trained domestic violence specialist to oversee the police’s investigations. More training and testing for officers will also take place.

Investigators say Petito was last in contact with her family in late August when the couple was visiting Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. Her body was found at a camping area in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming days after a nationwide search was launched.

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

Laundrie, Petito’s boyfriend, was a person of interest in the case. He refused to talk with authorities and disappeared on Sept. 13. His body was found near the Carlton Reserve on Oct. 20, and identified the next day. 

“It’s very likely Gabby was a long-term victim of domestic violence, whether that be physically, mentally, and/or emotionally,” the person conducting the independent review said.

NewsNation’s Sydney Kalich contributed to this report.

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