Gabby Petito’s parents are suing police in Utah, alleging officers failed to properly investigate her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, two weeks before he killed the 22-year-old in a case that drew international attention.
The lawsuit seeks $50 million in damages and was filed against the police department of Moab, Utah, a rural town known for being a gateway to iconic national parks, including National Park Arches.
Petito’s parents, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schimdt, argue that officers should have issued a citation for domestic violence after questioning Petito and her fiancé Brian Laundrie, 23, in August 2021 about a fight they had . Had officers done more to protect Petito while investigating the violent exchange, his murder two weeks later could have been avoided, the parents allege in the lawsuit.
“Officers misinterpreted Gabby’s extreme emotional distress, viewing it as the cause of the domestic violence rather than its result,” the lawsuit states.
Thursday’s filing is the latest development in the high-profile case surrounding Gabby Petito’s death. What started as a missing person case last summer has surfed on a true obsession with crime to become a social media sensation, attracting amateur sleuths online and the kind of global attention that can help authorities locate missing persons.
CONCEALMENT:Gabby Petito’s family is suing Brian Laundrie’s parents, alleging they knew of his murder
Petito disappeared at the end of August 2021 while traveling across the country with Laundrie. A few weeks later, his remains were found in Teton County, Wyoming, and a coroner ruled his death a homicide by strangulation.
Laundrie was named a person of interest in Petito’s disappearance and disappeared himself before being found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on the Carlton Reservation in Florida in October.
At a press conference Thursday, Schmidt, other family members and their team of attorneys stood in front of an old photo of Petito smiling in a slot canyon.
“There are laws in place to protect victims. And these laws have not been respected. And we don’t want that to happen to anyone else,” Schmidt said, his voice shaking.
The lawsuit also claims that the officers ‘trained Gabby to provide responses that officers used to justify their decision not to enforce Utah law,’ which requires action to be taken in response to incidents of domestic violence. .
Moab Police Officer Eric Pratt “was fundamentally biased in his approach to the investigation, choosing to believe Gabby’s attacker, ignoring evidence that Gabby was the victim, and intentionally looking for loopholes to circumvent the demands of Utah law and her duty to protect Gabby,” the lawsuit says.
After the lawsuit was filed, the city of Moab said the death was tragic but not the fault of their police department.
“Our officers acted with kindness, respect and empathy toward Ms. Petito,” city spokeswoman Lisa Adams said in a statement. “No one could have predicted the tragedy that would unfold weeks later and hundreds of miles away, and the city of Moab will vigorously defend itself against this lawsuit.”
The lawsuit follows a Notice of Claim filed in August, notifying Moab that Petito’s family intended to seek damages for wrongful death. An independent investigation in January blamed police for making “several unintentional mistakes”, including failing to issue a citation for domestic violence after Petito told police she had hit her boyfriend.
Contributor: Scott Gleason, USA TODAY; Associated Press.