‘Red flags’ missed in Petito, Laundrie traffic stop, why officers ‘should’ve followed the letter of the law’

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Domestic violence “red flags” were missed according to an investigation into a seemingly routine traffic stop that gave the world a view inside the ill-fated relationship between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie.

The couple was pulled over Aug. 12 in Moab, Utah by officers Eric Pratt and Scott Robbins about a month before Petito’s body was found in the Grand Teton National Park. Documents indicate she was strangled about two weeks after the stop.

Petito, 22, had set out on a cross-country trip with Brian Laundrie last July. Laundrie, whose partial human remains were found in the Carlton Reserve committed suicide, according to an autopsy in his death.

A formal complaint by an attorney prompted the Moab Police Department to request an outside investigation that was conducted by the Price, Utah police department that found “unintentional mistakes” were made by Pratt and Robbins.

“The statements of all those involved, along with the evidence presented, provided probable cause for an arrest,” the 102-page report stated.

The moment the decision not to arrest anyone was made was captured about 46 minutes into the 75-minute body camera video of the traffic stop.

“What were you attempting to cause him physical pain or physical impairment?” Officer Pratt asked a tearful Petito. “Is that what you were attempting to do to him?”

“No,” Petito said quietly. “Not at all.”

Petito’s “no” prompted a discussion between Pratt, Robbins and Park Ranger Melissa Hulls, who was also at the scene.

“It’s a headache whether I go left. It’s a headache whether I go right,” Robbins said on the body camera video.

“Another option is to not charge them and to separate them for the night,” Pratt suggested. “If they find themselves together again, what is it to you? You separated them. You provided for their safety.”

Hulls would later reveal she asked Petito if she was happy in the relationship and said she told her there was an opportunity to make a change in her life, but that statement is not part of the new report.

In a statement, Laundrie family attorney Steven Bertolino commended the officers for acting professionally.

“Although the officers may not have followed the letter of the law in not citing Gabby, I believe they did the best they could, given the responsiveness of both Brian and Gabby during the traffic stop,” Bertolino said. “We may never know if citing Gabby, or Brian for that matter, would have been the deciding factor in the final outcome.”

The report came to a similar conclusion.

“Would Gabby be alive today if this case was handled differently?” the report asked. “Nobody knows and nobody will ever know the answer to that question.”

Retired FBI Agent Jennifer Coffindaffer also commended the officers for acting with great empathy during a difficult decision.

“I wish every officer would be that empathetic during domestic violence cases,” Coffindaffer said. “But I do believe they should’ve followed the letter of the law, even if it took 75 minutes to get to it. The letter of the law should always dictate what we do as police officers.”

Both officers expressed regret for their decision not to make an arrest.

Pratt, who was training Robbins during this stop, told the outside investigator Laundrie “seemed like a mental and emotional bully.

But he said, “I didn’t feel she was a threat to him and I didn’t care if he ended up with a girl that was slapping him.”

Coffindaffer said while the Moab report that examined just over an hour in time took four months to complete, the FBI is analyzing far more information.

“Multiple leads, multiple tangents, searches, seizures,” Coffindaffer said.

She said it may take a while, but she does expect a final statement from the FBI to close the Petito murder investigation even if there is no one to prosecute.

“I think they will say the evidence shows, whoever the evidence shows, is responsible for Gabby’s murder,” Coffindaffer said.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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