CRIME, POLICE + COURTS
New photo of Gabby Petito raises questions
(CNN) — A selfie taken by Gabby Petito weeks before her death shows she had facial injuries on the day she and her fiancé Brian Laundrie were stopped by police investigating a domestic disturbance call, according to her family’s lawyer.
The photo was released Monday by a law office representing the Petito family. The image was described in a lawsuit filed by the family against the Moab City Police Department in Utah district court in November.
Family attorney Brian Stewart says the photo, found on Petito’s phone, was taken in the back of her van on August 12, the same day the couple was pulled over by Moab police as they were traveling through Utah.
In the selfie, Petito has a cut on her left cheek with what appears to be blood smeared over her eyelid, under her eye, and up the bridge of her nose. She appears to be wearing the same shirt in both the photo and officer body camera video released by Moab police.
The police body camera footage of that stop shows Moab officers talking to Petito and Laundrie, who admitted having a fight in which Petito said she struck her fiancé first. Officers noticed Petito had cuts on her face and arm, and she “demonstrated how Brian had violently grabbed her face during their altercation,” telling police Laundrie “gets frustrated with me a lot.”
About a month later, Petito’s remains were found in a Wyoming national park. Her death was ruled a homicide by manual strangulation.
She and Laundrie had been traveling cross-country in a van that summer and Petito had been portraying an idyllic, adventurous road trip on social media. But despite the couple’s happy online appearance, their relationship seemed to have become strained behind the scenes.
Petito’s family reported her missing in September, launching a nationwide search and attracting an avalanche of public attention to the case. As authorities were searching for Petito, Laundrie also went missing. His body was found in a Florida nature reserve in late October alongside a notebook in which he admitted to killing Petito, the FBI said. His death was ruled a suicide.
The family’s lawsuit against the Moab City Police Department and the officers involved in the traffic stop alleges the department was negligent in its hiring and training practices, and the officers were negligent in their handling of the domestic violence report, ultimately causing Gabby’s death.
Stewart said the photo shows Gabby “was grabbed over her face in such a way that her airways were likely obstructed. Gabby documented the injury and, during the stop, attempted to tell the Moab officers, however, the seriousness and significance this type of assault and injury was completely ignored.”
Obstructing a person’s airway qualifies as aggravated assault based on Utah’s Criminal Code, Stewart said, and was “ignored” by officers.
CNN reached out to the Moab City Police Department for comment Tuesday and was told the city “does not comment on matters related to active litigation.”
In November, the City of Moab issued a statement denying responsibility for her death and saying it would defend against the lawsuit.
“The death of Gabrielle Petito in Wyoming is a terrible tragedy, and we feel profound sympathy for the Petito and Schmidt families and the painful loss they have endured. At the same time, it is clear that Moab City Police Department officers are not responsible for Gabrielle Petito’s eventual murder,” the city said, CNN previously reported.
The city went on to say that its officers “acted with kindness, respect, and empathy toward Ms. Petito” during their interaction.
“Our daughter, Gabby, died as a result of intimate partner violence that could have and should have been identified by law enforcement using the lethality assessment,” Gabby’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, said in a statement last week. “We believe that if the lethality assessment had been properly used in her situation, together with the recommended support and resources, Gabby would still be alive today.”
The Petito family was in Utah to support a bill — which was unanimously passed by the state Senate — that would require specific training to identify and assess dangers posed by domestic violence.
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