The family of Gabby Petito has filed a $50 million wrongful death suit against the Moab, Utah, police department.
Petito had been traveling with her fiance, Brian Laundrie, when they passed through Moab on Aug. 12, 2021. During their time in Moab, the two engaged in an argument that became physical. Police interviewed Laundrie and Petito but took no action.
“Something needs to change,” Joe Petito, Gabby’s father, said Thursday in announcing the lawsuit, according to KTVX-TV in Salt Lake City. “And I guess there’s been some things in the past that I’ve read and changes didn’t happen. They need to come. Unfortunately, [the lawsuit is] the best way to have those changes made. It’s that simple.”
“Gabby’s story resonated with people around the world,” Petito’s stepfather, Jim Schmidt, told the station. “People saw themselves in her.”
The lawsuit names former Moab Police Chief Bret Edge, Assistant Chief Braydon Palmer, Officer Eric Pratt, Officer Daniel Robbins, and other members of the department. Pratt and Robbins were two officers who responded to the call.
“Gabby’s death constituted a wrongful death resulting from Defendants’ negligence,” the lawsuit states.
“Gabby did not have to die. Gabby would still be alive if Moab Police Department had not hired, retained and/or failed to train officers who were fundamentally unfit and safe to employ in the capacity of police officer.
“Gabby would still be alive if the police officers had competently and properly investigated Brian’s reported abuse and enforced Utah’s laws that were designed to remove the officers’ discretion to disregard abuse. Gabby would still be alive if Officer Pratt had not intentionally coached Gabby and manipulated the investigation to try to find loopholes that would allow him to disregard the mandates of Utah law and his duty to protect Gabby.
“Defendants’ negligence deprived Gabby of her safety and ultimately her life. Gabby’s parents have been deprived of Gabby’s companionship, love and affection, and the fulfillment of the hopes that all parents cherish for their children’s futures,” the lawsuit.
The lawsuit argues that the police response to Laundrie hitting Petito “was deeply flawed.”
“Despite the witness’s report, the officers treated Brian as if he were the victim of domestic abuse rather than the perpetrator. In fact, the officers never directly questioned Brian about whether he hit Gabby or how she ended up with scratches on her face. They failed to recognize or otherwise identify the obvious signs clearly indicating that Gabby was the victim of domestic abuse, including her assuming responsibility for the fight with Brian even though she described Brian grabbing her face so violently that it scratched her cheeks and drew blood,” the lawsuit stated.
“The officers egregiously misinterpreted Gabby’s extreme emotional distress, seeing it as the cause of the domestic violence rather than its result.”
According to KTVX, an independent investigation by Capt. Brandon Ratcliffe of the city of Price, Utah, police found Petito may have been a long-term domestic violence victim.
And it’s a possibility that different actions by the Moab police could have saved her life, Ratcliffe wrote, though there’s no way of being certain.
“Would Gabby be alive today if this case was handled differently?” Ratcliffe wrote in his report, according to KTVX. “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.”
James W. McConkie, one of the attorneys representing the Petito family, said the case is about more than one victim.
“The epidemic of domestic violence is a silent killer, the sign and symptoms of which often go unrecognized by those not familiar with interpersonal violence,” he told KSL-TV in Salt Lake City.
“To combat domestic violence, each of us has to do our part to call out abusers and know how to identify systemic problems that enable abuse, even when that is difficult to do,” he said, according to KSL.
Nichole Schmidt, Petito’s mother, said she is suing to protect others from suffering her daughter’s fate.
The Moab police department said it should not be blamed for what happened later.
“The attorneys for the Petito family seem to suggest that, somehow, our officers could see into the future, based on this single interaction. In truth, on Aug. 12, no one could have predicted the tragedy that would occur weeks later and hundreds of miles away,” Moab police said in a statement, according to KSL.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.