Police in Utah made “several unintentional mistakes” in the handling of a domestic violence incident involving Gabby Petito and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, weeks before the 22-year-old woman was found dead last September, an independent investigation has found.
The errors stemmed from the fact that Moab City Police Department officers failed to cite Petito for domestic violence, the report said.
At the time of the Aug. 12 incident, police who pulled the couple over on a Utah highway did not arrest them or question Laundrie at length and suggested Petito had been the aggressor. Later, after she was reported missing, police released bodycam footage of the Aug. 12 exchange showing a distraught and sobbing Petito saying that she had been struck by her boyfriend but that she “hit him first.”
It later emerged that a witness had called 911 to report seeing a man slapping a woman near a van fitting the description of the one the couple had been driving on a cross-country trip, which they were documenting on social media.
In another officer’s bodycam video released later, Petito said that Laundrie had “grabbed” her face and left a scratch.
The investigation found that a statement was never obtained from the original 911 caller, who reported seeing Laundrie strike Petito.
“It’s important in any investigation to interview and have statements by all those who are involved to better form a conclusion,” it said.
Capt. Brandon Ratcliffe of the Price City Police Department, wrote in the independent investigative report that “just because Gabby was determined to be the predominant aggressor as it related to this incident, doesn’t mean she was the long-term predominant aggressor in this relationship.”
“Oftentimes in cases of domestic violence, the long-term victim gets to a point emotionally where they defend themselves or act out in such a way where law enforcement is summoned,” he wrote. “There have been many times in my career where someone who we know from past experience to be a long-term victim of domestic violence, gets arrested for committing an act of domestic violence against their long-term abuser.”
He recommended improvements to the policies and training of the department, including additional training in domestic violence investigation, legal training and strengthening the review process for incident reports.
The City of Moab said it “believes our officers showed kindness, respect and empathy in their handling of this incident” and that it would implement additional training and resources on addressing domestic violence incidents.
Petito’s remains were found on Sept. 19 near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, and her cause of death was determined to be homicide. Laundrie went missing in September after first returning home to his family in Florida. He was found dead in a Florida nature preserve in October; an autopsy ruled his cause of death as suicide.