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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — If it were up to him, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd says he would have detained Brian Laundrie after learning he returned home to Florida in his fiancée’s van without her.
Police are still searching for Laundrie, the sole person of interest in Gabby Petito’s death. Police believe Laundrie drove Petito’s van back to North Port from their cross-country road trip on Sept. 1, 10 days before she was reported missing.
Laundrie, who was named a person of interest in her disappearance, retained a lawyer and refused to cooperate with investigators. North Port police spokesman Josh Taylor said at the time, police were limited in what they could do because Laundrie hadn’t been named a suspect and “we don’t have a crime.”
Laundrie disappeared from his family’s North Port home on Sept. 14 and was reported missing three days later. He has not been seen since.
On Thursday, during a press conference about a child porn investigation, Sheriff Judd commented on the Petito case, saying he would have detained Laundrie after Petito’s parents reported her missing.
“I can tell you at this sheriff’s office, when he showed up with her car and she was no place to be found, we never would have let him out of our custody that day. Other than that, I’m not sure where their investigation is,” Judd told reporters.
Judd also addressed a police encounter with Petito and Laundrie in Moab, Utah, after someone witnessed a physical altercation between the two. Both Laundrie and Petito had visible injuries after the fight, but officers determined Petito was the primary aggressor and declined to arrest either party, choosing to separate the pair for the night.
The Moab Police Department came under fire for its handling of a dispute. Moab Police Chief Bret Edge has taken an unexpected leave of absence amid an investigation into the department’s handling of the matter, but it was not immediately clear if his absence was related to the investigation.
“I can tell you that according to Florida law, when she was the victim of domestic violence originally, he would’ve been arrested,” Judd said of the incident.
Judd noted that his agency was “not involved in the investigation,” and that he could “only speculate based upon news reports, and as you know, those are incomplete at best, and sometimes they can be fictionalized at worst.”