Two Utah police officers who responded to a domestic violence call involving Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie should be placed on probation for making “several unintentional mistakes”, an investigator has said.
The independent investigation, carried out by Captain Brandon Ratcliffe of the Price Police Department, found that Officers Eric Pratt and Daniel Robbins had violated several aspects of state code and department policy in their handling of the incident.
Petito and Laundrie were traveling through Moab, Utah, last August when a person who saw them involved in a domestic dispute called the police.
The officers pulled over the couple’s van when it exceeded the speed limit, left its lane and hit a curb on 12 August.
Bodycam video footage recorded Petito saying that during a fight she had struck Laundrie first.
Officer Pratt said that Petito must be booked into jail, as under Utah law she was considered the primary aggressor and Laundrie the victim.
When Petito and Laundrie objected, the officer agreed not to charge her as the couple said they would spend the night apart.
Captain Ratcliffe stated in his report that the officers neglected their duty by failing to press any charges.
“I believe the officers responded to a domestic violence call and had probable cause an act of domestic violence had been committed,” stated Captain Ratcliffe. “This should have meant an arrest was made, either by citation or custody.”
The report stated that there was only evidence to charge Petito and not Laundrie, who returned home to Florida without his fiancé on 1 September.
Petito was then reported missing by her family and her remains were discovered at a remote Wyoming campground, with a coroner ruling she had died by strangulation.
Laundrie disappeared from his family home days after Petito was reported missing and after a nationwide manhunt, his remains were found at a Florida nature park on 20 October.
In the report, Captain Ratcliffe said he could not speculate on whether Petito’s death could have been prevented if the officers had acted differently in their interaction with her and Laundrie.
“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,” the report stated. “Nobody knows and nobody will ever know the answer to that question.”
The city has not said if the officers will face additional punishment, but said that it “intends to implement the report’s recommendations” on new policies for the police department.
This would include additional domestic violence training and legal training for its officers.
In an interview for the report, Officer Pratt said that he was “devastated” about Petito’s death. “I cared that day and I still care,” he told the investigator.
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