Gabby Petito: Police accused of ‘cover-up’ over delay in releasing second officer’s bodycam footage

Moab police department say they were overwhelmed with requests for the footage

Bevan Hurley
In New York
Monday 04 October 2021 15:37 BST
New bodycam video of Gabby Petito released
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Police from the Moab City Police Department have been accused of covering up bodycam footage which showed a tearful Gabby Petito telling officers she had been assaulted by Brian Laundrie.

The Utah police department released bodycam footage of a 12 August “domestic violence” incident between the couple from officer Daniel Robbins on 16 September.

But it was only after a former Grand County attorney accused them of withholding a second officer’s bodyworn footage that they released his footage 14 days later.

Officer Eric Pratt’s bodyworn camera footage cast a different light on the violent altercation between the couple, as Ms Petito told him she was struck on the face by Mr Laundrie during the fight.

In the 52-minute video, Ms Petito describes injuries to her face and neck and she the acute anxiety she feels about being separated from Mr Laundrie.

The video also included a disturbing conversation between the officers as they talk about how domestic violence can escalate to murder.

The police officers can also be heard laughing with Mr Laundrie, as one tells him “we feel bad for you”.

Former Grand County prosecutor Happy Morgan raised the delay at a council meeting on 28 September, as the acting police chief Braydon Palmer sat nearby, KUTV reported.

Gabby Petito descibes to police how Brian Laundrie grabbed her face
Gabby Petito descibes to police how Brian Laundrie grabbed her face (Moab City Police Department)
A tearful Gabby Petito shows the officer how Mr Laundrie struck her face
A tearful Gabby Petito shows the officer how Mr Laundrie struck her face (Moab City Police Department)

“Two officers responded that day – Pratt and Robbins.

“Where’s Pratt’s camera? Every news agency in the United States has requested it and they have not been turned over.”

“It became obvious to me watching the news that information had been withheld from the media.”

Mr Morgan wrote to Moab’s acting chief of police Mr Palmer again the next day demanding an explanation for the delay, in leaked emails obtained by KUTV.

“The sooner you come clean about Pratt’s body camera for the August 12 Petito/Laundrie matter, the better.

“If it was withheld, you need to provide it and apologise. If it doesn’t exist then the sooner you own up to that, the better.”

Mr Morgan called the matter a “cover up”, and added: “Fix that error before it blows up in your face.”

Mr Palmer responded to say he planned to release the footage the next day, and it was made public on 30 September.

Mr Morgan told KUTV he didn’t accept the police department’s explanations for the delay.

“Sometimes it’s just best to say, ‘We made this mistake, we shouldn’t have done it, and we’re going to do better in the future,’” he said. “That gives you an opportunity to start fresh and do things correctly.”

The Independent has approached Moab City Police Department for comment.

Meanwhile, the Moab Police office manager Kelli Day is also under investigation for redacting police bodycam footage.

Mr Morgan complained that parts of the bodycam footage had been removed to hide offensive comments made by the two officers who attended the 12 August callout.

Ms Day has been placed on leave.

A tale of two tapes

In the second tape, Officer Pratt talks to Ms Petito as she is sat in the back of the police car.

The officer tells Ms Petito that two witnesses reported seeing Mr Laundrie hit her. When asked what happened, Ms Petito tells officers she hit her fiance several times.

Officer: So, there’s two people that came to us and said that they saw him hit you. There’s two people that say they saw him punch you. Independent witnesses by Moon Flower.

Gabby: Well, to be honest I definitely hit him first.

Officer: Where’d you hit him?

Gabby: I slapped him in the face.

When pressed, Gabby seemed to admit that Brian hit her back, but quickly backtracked to take the blame and downplay his role in the fight.

Officer: How many times did you slap him?

Gabby: Just a couple.

Officer: And then his reaction was to do what?

Gabby: Grab my arm so I couldn’t slap him.

Officer: He just grabbed you? Did you hit him though? It’s OK. It’s understandable if you hit him and then he hit you, but we just want to know the truth if he actually hit you.

Gabby: I guess, yeah, but I hit him first.

Officer: Where did he hit you? Don’t worry.

Gabby: Well, he like grabbed my face like this. Um, he didn’t, like, hit me in the face. He didn’t, like, punch me in the face or anything.

Officer: Did he slap your face or what?

Gabby: Well, he like grabbed me with his nail and I guess that’s why it looks … like I definitely have a cut right here and I can feel it. When I touch it, it burns.

The officers separated the couple for the night, but believed there was insufficient evidence to press domestic violence charges.

Ms Petito was found dead in Wyoming on 19 September.

Domestic violence experts have criticised Moab police for failing to recognise the danger that Ms Petito was in.

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