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‘Biased’ Moab police officer failed to spot Gabby Petito was in danger, parents allege in new lawsuit

Lawyers say the family wants to honour ‘Gabby’s legacy by demanding accountability and working toward systemic changes’ 

Bevan Hurley
Thursday 03 November 2022 17:42 GMT
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New footage captures Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie hours before murder

The parents of Gabby Petito have filed a highly-anticipated $50m wrongful death lawsuit against Moab police, alleging an officer was “fundamentally biased” against her.

The court filing accuses Moab City Police Department of failing to follow the law and protect Petito, 22, when they pulled her and Brian Laundrie over for a suspected domestic violence incident last August weeks before her she was killed.

The Petito’s attorneys allege that Eric Pratt, one of the police officers who questioned Petito on 12 August last year, had threatened to kill a woman when their relationship ended, The Salt Lake City Tribune reported.

Mr Pratt was a police chief in another rural Utah town at the time, and the lawyers say it shows that he sympathised with Mr Laundrie.

Officer Pratt failed to accurately consider the danger Petito was in and charge Laundrie with domestic abuse, the suit claims.

The lawsuit accuses the police department, three Moab police officers and 10 other individuals of “negligent failure”.

In a statement, family attorney James McConkie said: “The purpose of the lawsuit is to honour Gabby’s legacy by demanding accountability and working toward systemic changes to protect victims of domestic abuse and violence and prevent such tragedies in the future.”

The lawsuit states that Moab police failed to follow the law when they pulled Petito and Laundrie over for a suspected domestic violence incident (AP)
A tearful Gabby Petito told officers Laundrie had grabbed her by the throat, before taking the blame for their fight (Supplied)

In a statement to The Independent, a Moab city spokesperson said Petito’s death was a “terrible tragedy” but that their officers were not responsible for her eventual murder.

“Our officers acted with kindness, respect and empathy toward Ms Petito,” the spokesperson said.

“In truth, on 12 August, no one could have predicted the tragedy that would occur weeks later and hundreds of miles away, and the City of Moab will ardently defend against this lawsuit.”

Petito’s remains were found near the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming on 19 September last year after a month-long, nationwide missing persons search that captured the attention of the country.

Investigators determined she had been strangled by Laundrie, who later admitted killing her in a confession note before taking his own life in a Florida swamp.

Police in Moab pulled the couple over on 12 August after receiving a 911 call from a witness saying they had seen Laundrie hitting Petito.

Laundrie was released without charge, and the couple were separated for one night before being allowed to continue on their cross-country van-life trip.

An independent investigation into police failures in the case later found that Petito was very likely a “long-term victim of domestic violence”.

The suit has been filed on behalf of Joseph and Tara Petito and Nichole and Jim Schmidt.

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