Don’t second-guess Moab police in Gabby Petito case, says lawyer

Sep 22, 2021, 5:00 PM
Moab police...
Police camera video provided by The Moab Police Department shows Brian Laundrie talking to a police officer after police pulled over the van he was traveling in with his girlfriend, Gabby Petito, 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)
(The Moab Police Department via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY — Perhaps if Moab police in southern Utah had arrested Gabby Petito or Brian Laundrie during their scuffle in August she may still be alive. But law enforcement is not responsible for her ultimate fate, so second-guessing these cops does no good, said a Utah defense attorney.


Aug. 12, Moab, Utah,  9-1-1 caller: “The gentleman was slapping the girl.”

Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito were fighting over a phone. 

But a witness named Christopher, whose last name was redacted, reportedly told police he saw “Gabrielle hitting Brian in the arm.” 

Moab police officers opted not to charge her after Petito told officers she had no intent to hurt Laundrie. Police ultimately described the incident as a “mental health crisis” in a written report, as reported by Insider.

Laundrie returned to his home in Florida on Sept. 1 driving the white van they were seen driving in Moab. He has since refused to cooperate with police.

Ten days later, Petito is reported missing.

Petitio’s body is found Sunday, Sept. 19, in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park.

Petito’s manner of death was announced as a homicide on Tuesday by the coroner.

The whereabouts of Laundrie, her fiancé, who is a person of interest in the case, remain unknown.

Ask the expert

Utah law states that a peace officer SHALL make an arrest in cases of domestic violence, KSL NewsRadio host Debbie Dujanovic told Greg Skordas, a former prosecutor and a defense attorney. Skordas had joined the Dave and Dujanovic show to explain the process behind law enforcement actions while responding to domestic violence cases.

“The law says that they shall arrest if  . . . they find that there was serious bodily injury caused or a dangerous weapon was used and in this case,” Skordas said. “I would assume that they found neither.”

Skordas said police officers also have the option to issue a citation. Debbie said none was issued to either Petito or Laundrie.

It is not uncommon in domestic violence cases for couples to minimize the situation or injuries in order to avoid jail and say things like: “We’re going to work this out. Please don’t do anything,” Skordas said.

To separate the fighting couple, police secured a hotel room for Laundrie while Petito stayed in their van. Skordas added that the law is designed to give both parties a cooling-off period, which is what law enforcement did.

“Police acted on what they had at the time, and their actions seemed to be appropriate,” Skordas said.

To lock up or not?

“Jail may have been the better option in this situation,” Debbie said.

“I am not picking sides or who should have gone to jail, [but] my belief is, that there was enough physical violence that jail might not have been a bad thing in this case.”

“In retrospect, that probably would have been a better way to handle this,” Skordas replied.

A  typical patrol officer shift for the Salt Lake City Police Department can include between three and five domestic violence calls, said Dave Noriega, recalling what a friend had told him.

“Are you going to arrest every single one of those?  … You would overrun the system. I think cops have to show some discretion, and it’s not as black and white as the law makes it sound,” Noriega said.

“And that’s why second-guessing or playing Monday morning quarterback against the Moab Police Department doesn’t make sense,” Skordas replied.


If you or somebody you know are experiencing trouble linked to domestic violence, the following resources are available to you.

Utah Domestic Violence LINKLine
1-800-897-LINK (5465)

If LINKLine advocates are experiencing an increased call volume, calls will be forwarded to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

StrongHearts Native Helpline


Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, a.s well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.  

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Don’t second-guess Moab police in Gabby Petito case, says lawyer