Gabby Petito’s parents announce wrongful death lawsuit against Moab police over Brian Laundrie 911 call

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If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

FIRST ON FOX: Lawyers for Gabby Petito’s parents announced Monday that they will file a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Moab Police Department, two officers who interacted with her just days before her death and two former leaders.

The family alleges that Moab officers Eric Pratt and Daniel Robbins failed to properly handle a 911 call in which a witness claimed he saw Brian Laundrie hitting Petito and trying to steal her phone and drive off without her in the middle of downtown Moab.

Fox News Digital was first to report the Aug. 12, 2021, domestic 911 call last year. Roughly two weeks after Moab police pulled over the couple in the entranceway to Arches National Park, Laundrie is believed to have bludgeoned Petito and strangled her to death at a Bridger-Teton National Forest campground in Wyoming, where they’d traveled as part of their cross-country van-life road trip.

“Had the officers involved had training to implement proper lethality assessment and to recognize the obvious indicators of abuse, it would have been clear to them that Gabby was a victim of intimate partner violence and needed immediate protection,” Brian Stewart, a lawyer for the family, said in a statement.

GABBY PETITO’S MOTHER SLAMS BRIAN LAUNDRIE’S NOTEBOOK CONFESSION

He also said a previously undisclosed photo of Petito taken during the incident shows “a close-up view of Gabby’s face where blood is smeared on her cheek and left eye, revealing the violent nature of Brian’s attack.” It also shows that she was “grabbed across her nose and mouth, potentially restricting her airway.”

In a news conference announcing the lawsuit Monday, Petito’s parents appeared remotely via Zoom.

Nichole Schmidt, her mother, used an image of a very young Petito as her avatar for the call.

Nichole Schmidt used an image of a very young Petito in her lap as her avatar during the virtual news briefing.

Nichole Schmidt used an image of a very young Petito in her lap as her avatar during the virtual news briefing.
(Hunter Richards for Fox News Digital)

The notice of claim, filed Friday but made public Monday, names Pratt and Robbins, former Moab Police Chief Bret Edge, and former Assistant Chief Braydon Palmer.

Edge went on leave shortly after the Petito case seized national headlines and then briefly returned to the department. He was succeeded on the job by the city’s new chief, Jared Garcia, in May.

Attorneys for Gabby Petito's family say new photo evidence shows injuries she sustained before the Moab 911 call.

Attorneys for Gabby Petito’s family say new photo evidence shows injuries she sustained before the Moab 911 call.
(Parker + McConkie)

When reached for comment, he said only, “I am no longer with the Moab Police Department.”

The text of the complaint particularly focuses on Pratt’s actions during the stop. He had seniority over Robbins, a relatively new officer, and on the bodycam video he appeared reluctant to charge Petito with a crime. He had apparently determined that she was the aggressor, not Laundrie.

“Officer Pratt called Assistant Chief Palmer to seek assistance on how to handle the situation,” the filing reads. “Chief Palmer instructed Officer Pratt to carefully read the assault statute and decide whether the situation satisfied the statute. Officer Pratt Googled the statute. After reading only the first half of the statute, Officer Pratt decided – incorrectly – that Utah law only recognizes assault if the perpetrator intended to cause bodily injury.”

This police camera video provided by The Moab Police Department shows Gabrielle "Gabby" Petito talking to a police officer after police pulled over the van she was traveling in with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, near the entrance to Arches National Park on Aug. 12, 2021.

This police camera video provided by The Moab Police Department shows Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito talking to a police officer after police pulled over the van she was traveling in with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, near the entrance to Arches National Park on Aug. 12, 2021.
(The Moab Police Department via AP)

An independent investigation into Moab’s response to the call “concluded that the officers made several mistakes and could not rule out that Gabby’s murder might have been prevented if the officers had handled the situation properly,” the filing reads.

The Moab Police Department drew scrutiny after a pair of bodycam videos, from Officers Pratt and Robbins, emerged showing its response to the Petito-Laundrie dispute, in which police made no arrests or citations despite a Utah statute requiring one to be issued in domestic violence incidents. After interviewing both Petito and Laundrie, as well as another witness, officers ruled out domestic violence and deemed the incident a “mental health break.”

Petito appeared visibly shaken throughout the entire encounter and told officers that Laundrie had grabbed her face while gesturing toward her neck. But the officers appeared to rule her the aggressor – and they seemed reluctant to arrest the diminutive, distressed woman at the time. But they also didn’t appear to even view Laundrie as a potential suspect despite the 911 caller alleging that he was an aggressor.

Price, Utah, Police Capt. Brandon Ratcliffe conducted the review, and he made a number of recommendations, including placing both Pratt and Robbins on probation and implementing increased training programs.

Moab has not provided Fox News Digital with any documents, comment or confirmation that any of these recommendations had been followed.

The department’s website, however, shows that Moab has added several officers in the last year and was hiring a new detective to be the department’s domestic violence specialist.

Moab Mayor Joette Langianese, who was elected months after the incident, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Screengrabs from police bodycam in Moab, Utah, on Aug. 12, 2021 show the couple following a domestic violence call.

Screengrabs from police bodycam in Moab, Utah, on Aug. 12, 2021 show the couple following a domestic violence call.
(Moab P.D.)

Petito’s parents, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt, as well as her stepparents, Tara Petito and Jim Schmidt, have retained the Parker and McConkie law firm in Utah to handle the case. The firm in 2020 successfully represented the family of Lauren McCluskey, a 21-year-old University of Utah student who repeatedly asked for help from campus police before a 37-year-old man shot her outside her dorm in 2018. That case resulted in a $13.5 million settlement with the school.

“The purpose of this lawsuit is just one part of the family’s broader effort to raise awareness and education, to protect victims of domestic violence and to help make sure that our governmental institutions are held to account and that they are given the resources and training that they need to do their jobs,” Stewart said at a news briefing Monday.

Attorneys for the Petito and Schmidt families announced a notice of claim against Moab police at a news briefing in Salt Lake City Monday, Aug. 8. From left to right, Brad Park, Steven Jensen, Brian Stewart, Jim McConkie.

Attorneys for the Petito and Schmidt families announced a notice of claim against Moab police at a news briefing in Salt Lake City Monday, Aug. 8. From left to right, Brad Park, Steven Jensen, Brian Stewart, Jim McConkie.
(Hunter Richards for Fox News Digital)

“We believe that these officers were negligent, and their negligence contributed to Gabby’s death,” Stewart told reporters, later adding: “They did not understand the law and did not apply the law properly in Gabby’s situation.”

The new filing also reveals that Petito called her parents during the stop, and they wanted her to fly home and get away from Laundrie. They even offered to pay for a ride to Salt Lake City and a flight home, but hearing that police were involved, they “accepted Gabby’s assurances that she would continue her trip,” the document reads.

BRIAN LAUNDRIE FOUND: PARENTS MAY HAVE JUST MISSED UNCOVERING REMAINS THEMSELVES

Steve Bertolino, an attorney for Laundrie’s parents, said their son had not told them about the Moab incident, and they only learned of it when Fox News Digital exposed the Moab 911 call last September.

Gabby Petito in an undated photograph.

Gabby Petito in an undated photograph.
(North Port Police)

GABBY PETITO HOMICIDE: TIMELINE OF DISAPPEARANCE WITH BRIAN LAUNDRIE

“I don’t know that they did everything wrong,” he said of the officers. “Everybody assumes it was a judgment call. People don’t deserve to get arrested because they got in a fight with someone that they love.”

Laundrie later confessed to the killing in a handwritten note found near his remains in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, where the FBI said he killed himself after sneaking out from under the nose of North Port police in Florida.

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Following their daughter’s death, Petito’s parents and stepparents created a nonprofit in her honor, the Gabby Petito Foundation, to raise awareness surrounding domestic violence and missing persons.

“I think Gabby’s story has touched a lot of people, and she’s saving lives,” Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, said in a statement. “I get people messaging me all the time that they were inspired by her to get out of a relationship.”

The Petito and Schmidt families are also suing Laundrie’s parents in two separate Florida cases.

“All we can hope is that Gabby’s legacy will be a positive one,” Jim Schmidt said during the news briefing. “That people will see her de ella and they her and possibly compare maybe what they’re going through in their life de ella and make a positive change.”

The family is urging anyone who finds themselves trapped in an abusive relationship to speak up and seek help.

“Reach out if you can,” Nichole Schmidt said during the briefing, wiping tears from her eyes. “Reach out to someone.”

“There are people that care,” added Petito’s father, Joseph Petito. “People should know there are people out there who will do whatever they can to help.”

If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

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