CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Analyst: Moab Police didn’t follow ‘letter of the law’ during Petito interaction, tried to show compassion

Oct 1, 2021, 6:34 PM | Updated: Dec 30, 2022, 11:21 am
petito body cam...
(Screenshot Moab Police Department)
(Screenshot Moab Police Department)

MOAB, Utah — More body-cam video is being released by the Moab City Police Department about Gabby Petito and the fight she had with Brian Laundrie weeks before she was found dead.  Some analysts say the police didn’t follow Utah state law during that interaction, but they say the situation isn’t as clear as many people think.

Marks on her face

In the newly released video, officers can be seen asking Petito why she had marks on her face and arm.  After tearfully explaining what she and Laundrie had been fighting about, she told officers Laundrie grabbed her by the face.

She said, “He, like, grabbed me like with his nail and I guess that’s why it looks [that way].  I definitely have a cut right here because I can feel it and when I touch it, it burns.”

Analysts say those marks give police enough reason to arrest Laundrie. However, there is a lot more to it than that.  Petito also told officers she instigated the fight.

“Well, to be honest, I definitely hit him first,” she said, adding, “I slapped him in the face.”

Petito would have been arrested

Former Unified Police Department Deputy Chief Chris Bertram says if the officers followed state law, to the letter, Petito would have been arrested, also.

Bertram said, “We have to question why it was that they didn’t arrest both of them under mutual combat of mutual domestic violence [laws].”

Would arresting Petito, booking her into jail and possibly charging her have been the best option?  Bertram says that’s what the officers had to decide in a very short amount of time.  He says, in the end, officers decided to try and resolve the matter as mercifully as they could.

“I think that that’s what they believed they were doing, at that time, was trying to resolve this at the lowest level and not put people into the criminal justice system that may not have needed to be there,” he said.

Use their discretion

According to Bertram, society has been asking police officers to use their discretion and not arrest everyone they can.  He says communities have told law enforcement to be more flexible with certain crimes like drug use and petty theft. And to make judgments that would normally be made by mental health care professionals

Bertram said, “We’ve asked police to be less strict in the last five or six years.”

However, he says there is a tricky balance between compassion and over-bearing policing. It’s something officers have to consider in every scenario.  With the gift of hindsight, Bertram says arresting both Petito and Laundrie would have been the best option.

“The compassion and mercy, they showed, but, again, lawmakers have said that you will and shall arrest, in these cases,” he said.

Bertram also criticized the Moab Police Department for not releasing all of their body-cam evidence and 911 recordings all at once.

 

Related articles:

Newly released body cam video shows bruises on Gabby Petito’s arm and cheek

National Park Service stonewalls public records in Gabby Petito case

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Analyst: Moab Police didn’t follow ‘letter of the law’ during Petito interaction, tried to show compassion