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Independent investigation finds Moab police should have cited Gabby Petito for domestic violence

Jan 12, 2022, 9:07 PM | Updated: Dec 29, 2022, 11:49 am

Moab police Gabby Petito...

FILE: This police camera video provided by Moab Police shows Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito talking 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. (The Moab Police Department via AP)

(The Moab Police Department via AP)

MOAB, Utah — An independent review of the August 12, 2021, domestic violence incident involving Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie in Moab is complete. The review was requested by an attorney, Tanya Reeves. She said she was concerned about how Moab police handled the case.

Among the conclusions: The officers responding to the domestic violence call made “unintentional” mistakes. And that training changes should be made by the Moab City Police Department.

One of the mistakes made, according to the independent investigator, was that Petito was not cited for domestic violence.

Moab police officers Pratt and Robbins

The investigator questioned a decision made by the responding officers, Eric Pratt and Daniel Robbins, to treat the encounter they had with Petito and Laundrie as a “mental/emotional health break” rather than a domestic assault.

When Laundrie and Petito were pulled over by Moab police, they were separated and spoken to individually. Each was asked about marks, cuts, and bruises on their bodies that were visible to the police, as well as how they got there.

Laundrie reportedly told police that two had been “squabbling” about “little things” that day. He said he was trying to “distance himself” from Petito by locking the van when it was parked in front of the Moonflower Community Cooperative and walking away. According to Laundrie, that’s when Petito hit him. 

“Brian stated Gabby also wore rings and the combination of the phone, her rings, and her nails are what likely caused his injuries,” according to the independent reviewer.

His injuries reportedly included “scratches on the left side of Brian’s neck, left side of his nose, scratch near the center of his face, and bruise and bleeding on the right side of his head.”

Additionally, there was an injury to his right upper arm.

Moab police question Gabby Petito

According to the investigator, Gabby also told police that the two had had a rough morning. When Brian repeatedly told her to calm down and relax, she “got real mad,” the report said.

Here’s an excerpt from the report:

Gabby was told about witnesses that reported Brian had hit her. (She) responded, “to be honest, I definitely hit him first.” Gabby said she had slapped Brian a couple of times and Brian kept telling her to “shut up.” Gabby said she hit Brian as “I was trying to get him to stop telling me to calm down.” Gabby said Brian reacted by grabbing her arm, “so I wouldn’t slap him.” Officer Pratt asked if Brian only “grabbed” her and she said, “yeah.” Officer Pratt then asked, “did he hit you though?” Gabby replied saying, “I guess but I hit him first.”

Petito’s account of the fight holds particular relevance. It was her admission of “trying to get him to stop telling me to calm down,” and her admission that she hit him first, that led Officer Pratt to determine Petito did not have the intent to do bodily injury to Laundrie. Therefore, Pratt and Robbins reasoned, her actions did not amount to domestic violence.

“I took my 16 years of experience and said I believed Gabby based on the totality of the circumstances and based on what she appears physically capable of and based on what I saw him doing and act the way he was acting that I don’t think she assaulted him,” said Officer Pratt, based on the newly released report.

Responses by Officer Robbins mirrored those of Officer Pratt. According to the new report, Robbins did not find the situation to have risen to the level of domestic violence.

Investigator’s conclusions

Citing Utah law, the author of the new independent review disagrees with Moab Officers Pratt and Robbins. 

“The end result of this investigated incident concluded with separating Brian and Gabby and not making an arrest, either by citation or custody,” the report reads.

“Based on the information provided, in this specific incident, Brian would be the victim with Gabby being the suspect.

“The statements of all those involved, along with the evidence presented, provided probable cause for an arrest,” the report continued.

Gabby Petito was reported missing by her family on September 11, 2021. Human remains were found at a campground in the Bridger-Teton National Forest outside Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming on September 19, 2021. On September 21, 2021, her remains were positively identified.

Laundrie drove Petito’s van to his parent’s home in Florida and arrived without Petito on September 1, 2021. He was declared a person of interest in Petito’s disappearance on September 15, 2021. On October 20, 2021, Tampa, Florida FBI agents reported that human remains and items that belonged to Laundrie were found at the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park.

On October 21, 2021, his remains were positively identified. His death was ruled a suicide.

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Independent investigation finds Moab police should have cited Gabby Petito for domestic violence