Family of Gabby Petito files lawsuit against Moab Police Department for negligence

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A screenshot from body camera footage. Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito talks 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. Petito’s family filed a lawsuit for 50 million dollars against the Moab City Police Department Thursday over a police incident that occurred on Aug 21, 2021 that the family says could have prevented Petito’s eventual murder.(The Moab Police Department via AP, File)

Gabby Petito’s family has filed a lawsuit for 50 million dollars against the Moab City Police Department over a police incident that occurred on Aug. 21, 2021, which the family says could have prevented Petito’s eventual murder.

According to the official court documents, the lawsuit is “alleging the Department’s negligent hiring and failure to properly train and the Individual Officers’ negligence caused Gabby’s tragic and untimely death.”

This comes after the Petito family filed claim in August 2022 that police had “failed her.”

A statement by Moab City on an investigation of the case said that “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.”

Court documents described that the incident began with a 911 call from a witness who allegedly saw Brian Laundrie, Petito’s fiancé, hit Petito.

The investigation of the initial police incident, conducted by Captain Brandon Ratcliffe of Price City Police Department, said Laundrie explained that he had pushed Petito away from him to keep her from hitting him, with Petito admitting to officers that she had hit Laundrie.

Laundrie allegedly had scratch marks on his neck and Petito had a scratch on her cheek, which she told officers was from Laundrie’s attempt to protect himself.

Brian Stewart, the Petito family’s attorney based out of Parker and McConkie Personal Injury Lawyers in Salt Lake City, made a statement to the Daily Universe about the lawsuit.

According to Stewart, the Petito family “did not take the decision to file a lawsuit lightly.” He said their desire has never been to simply blame police for their loss” and “they relied on these officers to uphold the law, to serve and protect their daughter.”

Stewart said it became clear that officers involved did not fully investigate the threat Petito faced, and that the Petitos “knew they owed it to Gabby to demand accountability and change.”

Stewart said that Gabby would still be alive today if the police had properly done their job to protect her.

He quoted the officer at the scene of the Petito/Laundrie investigation, calling it “a chilling description of Gabby’s life-threatening situation and a stunning self-indictment of his own decision to find a loophole to avoid enforcing the law.”

According to Stewart, the officer, Eric Pratt, stated at the scene that the domestic violence code exists for protection and there are many times the abused go back to their abuser and don’t want to be separated or get the abuser charged or arrested.

“They end up getting worse and worse treatment, and then they end up getting killed,” Pratt said of victims of domestic violence.

Stewart said Pratt stated he didn’t care if the letter of the law was followed.

“Gabby would be alive today if the officers had done their job to protect her and followed the law,” Stewart said.

Ratcliffe put a disclaimer in the investigation into the incident.

“There are many ‘what-if’s’ that have presented itself as part of this investigation, the primary one being ‘would Gabby be alive today if this case was handled differently?’ That is an impossible question to answer…nobody knows and nobody will ever know the answer to that question,” he said.

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