Former Moab police chief weighs in on Petito-Laundrie incident

Sep 23, 2021, 10:50 PM | Updated: 10:51 pm

UTAH — The former police chief of Moab City says officers did as they were trained in their interaction with Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie, after the city announced it would investigate the incident that’s garnered national attention.

Former police chief Jim Winder left the post in 2019 after nearly two years with the department. He acknowledges the training and expectation of officers may have changed since he left.

The August 12 incident involved a report of a possible domestic dispute between a couple traveling through Moab on a cross-country trip.

“In that context the officers did an excellent job, from my experience,” Winder said. “They arrived. Immediately separated these two folks. They treated them with dignity, respect and compassion.”

The one hour and 17-minute interaction was caught on body camera video.

Only one video has been released to the public and has prompted some praise and widespread criticism online. Winder encouraged the public to “keep their powder dry and wait and see.”

“People ascribing particular psychological traits to Mr. Laundrie and Ms. Petito from a video, indicating that had one path been taken versus another… had they arrested someone, no one would have ever died. These are interesting topics of conversation but they’re not real,” Winder said.

“We have to begin to treat these officers with dignity and respect and allow some process to take place before we vilify or make judgements about their actions. Being on that street is different than being at home in your armchair and reviewing these video tapes.”

Moab confirmed to KSL its officers didn’t perform what is known as lethality assessment protocol or LAP—a series of direct questions designed to assess the risk of danger to a domestic violence victim and connect him or her with a counselor.

Winder says officers were trained in LAP while he was chief in Moab, but he said its not something they’re expected to do on every domestic call.

“Here’s the reality of this, the lethality assessment protocol is not commonly used in circumstances in what we refer to in law enforcement as rolling domestics,” he said, referring to the incident involving Petito and Laundrie.

“I don’t know of an agency that would deploy the LAP in that circumstance. Why is that? Well, that’s a really good question. I think that the perception is that this is a short-term eruption.”

In a joint statement announcing the investigation Thursday, Moab City and the police department said:

“At this time, the City of Moab is unaware of any breach of Police Department policy during this incident. However, the City will conduct a formal investigation and, based on the results, will take any next steps that may be appropriate.

We understand that individuals can view the same situation in very different ways, and we recognize how the death of Ms. Petito more than two weeks later in Wyoming might lead to speculation, in hindsight, about actions taken during the incident in Moab. The purpose of the City’s formal investigation is to gather the underlying facts and evidence necessary to make a thorough, informed evaluation of such actions.”

The interaction with police includes officers determining that Petito was the aggressor in the situation with Laundrie. A 911 call reporting the incident has called that into question. The witness says he saw Laundrie slap Petito multiple times.

Winder notes that we don’t know whether the officers had that information going into it. But he also points to statements both Laundrie and Petito made separately to the officers, contradicting what the caller said.

“The two individuals who responded to this call are human beings. They appear to be doing the best job they can possibly do. And they are under scrutiny that no person would want to be under in any circumstance,” Winder said.

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Former Moab police chief weighs in on Petito-Laundrie incident