Tampa domestic violence expert weighs in on police interaction with Petito, Laundrie in Utah

Hillsborough County

You can find the latest on the investigation involving Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie hereDownload the WFLA app for breaking news push alerts and sign up for breaking news email alerts.

NORTH PORT, Fla. (WFLA) — In a newly released body camera video from Moab City Police in Utah from Aug 12, an anxious Gabby Petito tells officers her fiancé Brian Laundrie hit her.

 “I guess yeah, but I hit him first,” Petito said. “He like grabbed me like with his nail and I guess it’s why like it looks, I definitely have a cut right here because when I touch it, it burns.”

Mindy Murphy says the video is concerning. She’s the president and CEO of the Spring of Tampa, the certified domestic violence center for Hillsborough County.

“It’s not surprising that Gabby who is clearly, in my opinion, the victim of domestic violence is minimizing Brian’s part [in the fight] because she’s probably been told repeatedly in the relationship that she’s making too big of a deal when he does something,” Murphy said.

“All of her activities were being scrutinized and none of his,” Murphy said. “By the end, Brian is everyone’s buddy, and it was disturbing.”

Murphy says officers didn’t ask enough questions about Brian Laundrie’s behavior, and they were focused on her behavior.

“Gabby demonstrated for law enforcement the way Brian grabbed her by the face [and neck]. That was a perfect opportunity for them to say ‘Has Brian ever grabbed you by the face before? Has he ever put his hands around your neck? Has he ever attempted to restrict your airflow?’ These are all high-risk indicators for lethality,” Murphy said.

In the Aug. 12 police report, Moab City police officers didn’t feel the situation escalated to the level of a domestic assault as much as that of a mental health crisis.

No charges were filed, and the couple was separated for the night. 

In the body camera video, an officer indicates Petito was the aggressor in the fight. But in a 911 call, a witness told the dispatcher he saw Laundrie hitting Petito.

“We drove by and the gentleman was slapping the girl,” the caller said.

The City of Moab says it will launch an investigation into how police officers handled the interaction with Laundrie and Petito. 

The police department will identify an unaffiliated law enforcement agency to conduct the formal investigation on the department’s behalf.

On Friday, an attorney for the family of Brian Laundrie told 8 On Your Side the sister of the now-missing 23-year-old did see him after he returned to Florida alone from his cross-country trip with fiancée Gabby Petito.

Laundrie returned to North Port in the van he and Petito had been traveling in on Sept. 1, according to law enforcement. Attorney Steve Bertolino says Brian’s sister, Cassie Laundrie, saw him twice after his return – including on the family’s camping trip to Fort De Soto in Pinellas County.

“Cassie saw her brother Brian on September 1 when he stopped by her home and again on September 6 at Fort De Soto Park,” Bertolino said in a text. “Law enforcement agencies are well aware of these dates.”

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