Moab City police officers met Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie almost a year ago when they looked into a report of domestic violence.
Now, the family of the 22-year-old is going to sue the police department, saying that officers were not trained well and did not follow the law before their daughter died.
The attorneys for the Petito family formally announced the wrongful death lawsuit in a press conference from Salt Lake City.
Joseph and Tara Petito and Nichole and Jim Schmidt, Gabby’s parents, are seeking $50 million in damages in their lawsuit against the police claiming the police in Moab mishandled the domestic abuse call.
Gabby Peitio and Brian Laundrie
In September 2021, at age 22, Gabby Petito was reported missing while on a monthslong cross-country van life trip with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie.
On September 19, 2021, the body of Petito was found in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming.
Upon examination, it was determined that her death was classified as a homicide by “manual strangulation” that would have taken place approximately 3 weeks before being found.
Laundrie was named as a person of interest in the case.
In October 2021, he was found dead in Florida’s Carlton Reserve from a self-inflicted gun wound.
After Laundrie’s death, writings were found where he admitted to killing Petito.
The Wrongful Death Lawsuit
“Gabby’s parents are bringing this lawsuit to honor Gabby’s legacy by working to save the lives of victims of domestic violence throughout the United States and the world,” said James McConkie, an attorney with Parker & McConkie, representing the Petito family.
McConkie said that this lawsuit in Utah is part of a larger effort by Petito’s parents to bring attention to intimate partner violence.
The family wants to let people who have been hurt by domestic violence know they can get help and trust the police.
“They hope their efforts to help will save lives and give meaning to the senseless, avoidable, and tragic murder of their daughter,” McConkie said.
Investigation in Wrongful Death Claim
On August 12, Petito and Laundrie were pulled over by police in Moab, Utah, after 911 callers said they were fighting.
Body camera footage of the interaction made some question whether more help could have saved Petito’s life.
A separate investigation found that the police made “several unintentional mistakes.”
Police identified Petito as the primary aggressor during the traffic stop based on scrapes on Laundrie’s hands.
In the police footage, Moab officers do not ask questions to see if she was acting in self-defense.
Instead, they ask Petito if she meant to hurt him. This is one of the red flags consultant Lynn Rosenthal saw in the police footage.
The Moab police report indicated that the police officers could have arrested Gabby but chose not to.
Instead, they separated Brian and Gabby while they were staying outside of Arches National Park.
The Petito family’s lawyers said that a new photo that hasn’t been made public shows a close-up of Petito’s face.
The picture shows “blood is smeared on her cheek and left eye.”
“The photo shows that Gabby’s face was grabbed across her nose and mouth, potentially restricting her airway,” the filing said.
“While the full evidence has not yet been made public, when it is released, it will clearly show that if the officers had been properly trained and followed the law, Gabby would still be alive today,” said McConkie.
Brian Stewart, another lawyer for the Petito family, said the family thinks it’s essential for government agencies to be held accountable when they make mistakes like this.
Stewart prepared a statement that lists “obvious signs of abuse” that, if the officers had been adequately trained, would have shown them that Gabby Petito needed protection.
The list included:
- The person who called 911 said they saw Brian Laundrie slap Gabby and chase her up and down the sidewalk.
- Gabby told the police that Laundrie grabbed her face and cut her cheek with his nail. The law firm said that photos show blood on her cheek and left eye, which can’t be seen on the body camera footage. This could mean she was held in a way that blocked her airway.
- Gabby had reported he had grabbed her arm, and there were visible marks left.
The Moab City Police Department didn’t respond to requests for comments immediately, stating they do not talk about pending lawsuits.
The Petito family also filed a lawsuit in Florida against Laundrie’s parents, accusing them of making it harder to find their daughter and saying they knew Laundrie killed Petito.
On Monday, Petito’s mother, Nicole Schmidt, wiped away tears at a news conference.
“This is just bringing back a lot of pain,” she said. “We’re going do whatever we can. That’s why we’re here.”
Contact Alexander Shunnarah Trial Attorneys for Your Legal Needs
The lawyers at Alexander Shunnarah Trial Attorneys are empathetic to those who are going through a difficult time as a loved one has passed due to negligence. Our wrongful death lawyers can help families navigate the legal system while they grieve the loss. If you have any questions, please call us for a free consultation at 1-800-229-7989.