Gabby Petito investigation: Police made ‘unintentional mistakes’ handling Utah incident, report finds

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This image from police camera video provided by The Moab Police Department shows Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie talking to a police officer near the entrance to Arches National Park on Aug. 12, 2021. (Courtesy: Moab Police Dept. via AP)

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MOAB, Utah (ABC4/WFLA) — The City of Moab has released its findings into the investigation of the police department’s handling of an incident between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie.

The report of the investigation, which is over 100 pages and was written by a Captain with the Price City Police Department was released Wednesday. It was released after a complaint was filed regarding the Moab Police Department’s response to a reported assault between Petito and her then-fiancé Brian Laundrie.

In the report, the captain with the Price City Police Department writes:

After reviewing all the information and speaking with the officers, I am confident and comfortable in stating the mistakes that were made were not made intentionally. The officers did not know what they were doing was wrong at the time and did not make the decision to benefit themselves in any way. They both believed at the time they were making the right decision based on the totality of the circumstances that were presented.

The Moab Police Department’s handling of the incident came under worldwide scrutiny after bodycam footage of the incident was released of the reported assault incident between Petito and Laundrie in August 2021.

WFLA obtained a copy of the police report filed on the incident in Moab back in August.

On Aug. 12, Moab Police were called to a reported domestic problem in which a “male had been observed to have assaulted the female” near the Moonflower Community Cooperative. Petito and Laundrie were said to have left the scene in a van after “some sort of altercation.” One officer says he was able to catch up to the van as it neared the entrance to Arches National Park.

After stopping the van, officers say they noticed Petito crying “uncontrollably.” She continued crying during the investigation and said she was struggling with her mental health.

Additionally, Petito told officers she and Laundrie had been having “little arguments” that day. This lead “to the incident that was reported to law enforcement.”

Petito reportedly told Moab Police that when she saw the officer trying to pull them over, she “hit brian in the arm to get his attention,” which caused him to hit the curb.

The entire time she spoke with police, the officer says Petito could not stop crying, “breathing heavily, or compose a sentence without needing to wipe away tears, wipe her nose, or rub her knees with her hands.”

Authorities report Laundrie told officers the couple had been traveling for four to five months, which “created emotional strain between them and increased the number of arguments.”

He also said “issues between the two had been building over the last few days,” causing them to argue more than usual. While arguing in Moab, Laundrie says he tried to separate Petito from him so they could “both calm their emotions.”

After evaluating the circumstances, Moab Police determined the incident was not a domestic assault.

However, the independent report said even though Petito was the predominant aggressor in the one incident, it was “very likely” Petito was a victim of long-term domestic violence.

The report’s author said victims of this type of abuse tend to reach a point where they lash out in a way that causes the police to be called.

“Gabby had a job which she left in order to travel the country with Brian,” the report said. “Gabby was trying to start an online career which Brian didn’t support or believe she could accomplish. Brian tried locking Gabby out of the van in an attempt to control her movements. Brian said he was trying to “make” Gabby calm down and Gabby said she was trying to get Brian to stop telling her to calm down. Gabby also said Brian kept telling her to “shut up.”

The report did say even if there were signs of Laundrie being the long-term aggressor, officers could only act on the information they were provided.

The Price City Police Captain who authored the report concludes by saying:

There are many “what-if’s” that have presented itself as part of this investigation, the primary one
being: Would Gabby be alive today if this case was handled differently? That is an impossible question to
answer despite it being the answer many people want to know. Nobody knows and nobody will ever
know the answer to that question. My job is to provide information into the details of this investigation
and if it was handled appropriately.

Steven Bertolino, the Laundrie family attorney, responded to the report, saying:

“The Moab incident was certainly an indication of the breakdown of Brian and Gabby’s ability to handle the stresses of spending 24/7 with each other.    Any reasonable person can appreciate this.  The Moab officers responded and acted professionally toward both Brian and Gabby.  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.  To label every disagreement between couples a citable domestic violence incident is to criminalize human emotions and reactions that should be dealt with outside of the criminal code.  In my opinion the officers did the right thing by separating the two young adults.  There are many other factors at play here that may have changed the outcome of the two young lives that have been tragically lost.   We may never know if citing Gabby, or Brian for that matter, would have been the deciding factor in the final outcome but I personally don’t believe we should issue criminal citations and label everything as domestic violence.”

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

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