Gabby Petito’s family files amended lawsuit against Moab police
Mar 2, 2023, 5:48 PM | Updated: 5:50 pm
(Moab City Police Department)
MOAB, Utah — The parents of Gabby Petito have filed an amended complaint against the Moab Police Department and the officers who stopped and questioned her and Brian Laundrie following a domestic violence episode near Arches National Park, but failed to take anyone into custody.
The complaint does not add any causes of action or seek additional relief. However, it includes admissions allegedly made by officer Eric Pratt that he knew Laundrie was a threat, yet still chose to ignore the law, according to the Petito family’s attorneys. Also, the department failed to implement the Lethality Assessment Protocol which Moab police said three years earlier that it would be begin using, the lawsuit alleges.
On Aug. 12, 2021, while traveling across the country, police were called to investigate Petito, 22, and Laundrie, 23, after emergency dispatchers received a report of a couple possibly involved in a domestic situation. The traffic stop by Moab police and subsequent release of body camera video garnered international attention as it showed a crying Petito. But police concluded that Petito was the aggressor in the situation and rather than arresting anyone, officers arranged for them to be separated that night. Laundrie stayed in a hotel and Petito in their van.
Petito’s final Instagram post was on Aug. 25. On Sept. 1, Laundrie returned to his parents’ home in Florida alone.
In November, Petito’s family filed $50 million lawsuit against the Moab Police Department and the officers involved in the traffic stop. In their amended complaint filed Wednesday, Petito’s parents allege that since their original lawsuit was filed, additional information has come to light.
“The amendments include multiple damning admissions made by officer Eric Pratt, demonstrating that, 1) he knew Brian was an emotional and mental threat to Gabby, 2) that Brian demonstrated many dangerous red flags, and 3) that he knowingly and willfully chose to not follow the law to protect Gabby. Pratt stated he would rather be kicked out of the police department than follow the requirements of the law to protect her,” according to statement from Steven Jensen, one of the attorneys representing the Petito family.
“Specifically, he has admitted that he saw through Brian’s facade at the time of the encounter,” according to the amended lawsuit which also contends that Pratt determined during the traffic stop that Laundrie “clearly has influence over her mentality that looked unsavory to me. … He’s mentally messing with her.
“‘He was just a weird, not healthy dude, and that was clear,” Pratt allegedly said, according to the lawsuit. “I thought he was an emotional threat to her. I thought he was a mental threat to her.” It also claims Pratt “colorfully admitted, ‘I know these kind of guys. Brian didn’t get away with anything from being cute. Brian showed more red flags than a Chinese Communist rally.'”
The amended complaint also alleges that in 2018, the Moab police made a commitment to implement the Lethality Assessment Protocol. However, Petito’s attorneys allege that “Moab failed to faithfully implement the (protocol) and was not actively training its officers or requiring use of (the protocol) by its officers at the time of (the traffic stop),” the lawsuit states.
In January, Petito’s parents joined Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson at the state Capitol to advocate for stronger domestic violence responses from police officers and voicing their support for a bill would require law enforcers to conduct a Lethality Assessment Protocol when responding to domestic violence situations. The protocol would require officers to go over a list of questions with the potential victim and based on the answers or nonanswers, assess the risk factor of the abuser.
On Wednesday, the Utah Legislature passed that bill. If the governor signs it, it would require police to conduct the 12-question assessment whenever they respond to a domestic violence call, regardless of whether an arrest is made.
“Our daughter, Gabby, died as a result of intimate partner violence that could have and should have been identified by law enforcement using the lethality assessment. We believe that if the lethality assessment had been properly used in her situation, together with the recommended support and resources, Gabby would still be alive today,” Nichole Schmidt, Petito’s mother, said in a prepared statement.
In November, Moab officials said in a prepared statement that while Petito’s death was a “terrible tragedy … no one could have predicted the tragedy that would occur weeks later and hundreds of miles away,” that its officers were not responsible for her death and that they would fight the lawsuit.