Gabby Petito’s family says officer ironically predicted her murder

Posted at 3:02 PM, March 11, 2024 and last updated 11:52 AM, March 11, 2024

MOAB, Utah (Court TV) — Days after a judge cleared the way for their lawsuit against a Utah police department to move forward, Gabby Petito’s family updated their complaint to offer more information about the department they say failed to save their daughter’s life.

Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito

FILE – This Aug. 12, 2021, file photo from video provided by the Moab, Utah, Police Department shows Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito talking to police officers after police pulled over their van near the entrance to Arches National Park in Utah. (The Moab Police Department via AP)

Gabby Petito disappeared while traveling in a van with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, in August 2021. Her body was found the next month in a wooded area of Wyoming. Laundrie, who is alleged to have murdered Petito, took his own life before he could be charged. Petito’s parents, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt, settled a lawsuit last month with Laundrie’s parents and attorney for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” The terms of that settlement remain confidential.

Joseph and Schmidt filed a separate wrongful death lawsuit against the Moab City Police Department in 2022, which briefly interacted with the couple as they passed through on Aug. 12, 2021. On that date, several officers responded after witnesses reported seeing Brian hit Gabby. Joseph and Schmidt allege in their lawsuit that the police department’s “negligence in hiring, training, supervising, and retaining of certain officers as well as the negligence of these officers in violating Utah law — for which Moab City Police Department is vicariously liable — caused Gabby’s tragic and untimely death.”

When officers separated Gabby and Brian, both offered different versions of why they had fought or how it had progressed, with the responding officers eventually determining that Gabby had been the aggressor, despite visible injuries to her face. According to the lawsuit, bodyworn camera footage from the incident recorded the officers debating about how to handle the situation, which should have been governed by Utah’s statutes. Instead, the lawsuit purports that the officers took it upon themselves to find loopholes to avoid handling the situation properly and alleges that one of the officers ironically predicted Gabby’s death when he noted, “You know why the domestic assault code is there. It’s there to protect people. The reason they don’t give us discretion on these things is because too many times women who are at risk want to go back to their abuser, they just wanted him to stop, and they don’t want to be separated, they don’t want him charged, they don’t want him to go to jail. And then they end up getting worse and worse treatment, and they end up getting killed.”

selfie of gabby petito

An image appears to show injuries to Gabby Petito’s face on Aug. 12, 2021. (Parker & McConkie)

The lawsuit says one officer involved later said of Brian, “He was just a weird, not healthy dude,” and described him as “an emotional threat” and “a mental threat to her,” and said, “Brian showed more red flags than a Chinese communist rally.” The officer said he ultimately did not intervene further because there’s no law against “gaslighting and taking advantage of people mentally and emotionally for your own reasons.”

But when officers arrived on the scene, the lawsuit alleges that they failed to use the specific training for dealing with potential domestic violence situations that the department had promised to use. In 2018, the Moab Police Department entered an agreement to begin using the Lethality Assessment Protocol-Maryland Model (LAP), which was renewed for three years in 2019 and should have been in place on Aug. 12, 2021. But according to the lawsuit, “An officer who was employed by the Moab City Police Department has reported that Moab was not using the LAP at the time and that the LAP was Moab’s policy on paper, but not in practice.”

The police department’s hiring practices are also called into question by the lawsuit, which alleges that one of the officers who responded to the call had a “history of pervasive professional and sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment and intimate partner violence.”

While the lawsuit against the Moab Police Department was initially filed in 2022, it was delayed because of a bond and a stay that was put in place by a court, which was recently lifted by the Utah District Court.

The lawsuit seeks more than $200,000,000 in damages.