Brian Laundrie, left, and Gabrielle 'Gabby' Petito. 

Brian Laundrie, left, and Gabrielle 'Gabby' Petito.  Credit: EPA-EFE / Shutterstock / North Port (Fla.) Police Department

Gabrielle "Gabby" Petito would still be alive if Moab City police officers protected the Blue Point native from her then-fiance Brian Laundrie following a physical altercation between the couple last August, court records filed in advance of a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Utah-based department allege.

Petito, 22, who had been on a cross-country road trip with fellow Bayport-Blue Point High School graduate Laundrie, was fatally strangled and her body was found in September in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. The FBI named Laundrie, 23, a "person of interest" in her homicide, but he was never charged and he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His remains were found Oct. 20 in a Florida nature reserve.

A notice of claim filed Aug, 5 by Petito's family against the Moab City Police Department, then-Chief Bret Edge, former Assistant Chief Braydon Palmer, officers Daniel Robbins and Eric Pratt and 10 unnamed individuals, asks for $50 million in damages. 

"If the officers had been properly trained and followed the law, Gabby would be alive today," James McConkie, an attorney representing the Petito family said in a statement. "Failure to follow the law can have deadly consequences, as it did in this case."

The filing — a precursor to a civil lawsuit against a government agency or municipality — contends that Petito's death was caused by the "wrongful acts or neglect" of responding officers, including their alleged lack of domestic violence training and alleged failure to follow state law during their Aug. 12, 2021, interaction with the pair.

Brian Stewart, the case's lead attorney, said the lawsuit is not intended to punish individual officers.

"We believe the only effective way to correct these problems is to hold our institutions accountable for their failures, including in law enforcement," Stewart said at a news conference Monday in which Petito's parents and stepparents appeared by Zoom.

Jim Schmidt, Petito's stepfather, said he hopes the suit helps victims of domestic violence come forward.

"As parents, we can never fully wrap our heads around the situation and what happened," he said Monday. "But all we can hope is that Gabby's legacy … will be a positive one."

Moab spokeswoman Lisa Church said the city does not comment on pending litigation.

Petito and Laundrie were on a monthslong trip in her van visiting the west coast, much of which she documented on social media, when they stopped in Moab, according to the court filing. 

A witness who called 911 reported seeing Laundrie "slapping" Petito and that he "hit her" while chasing her down the sidewalk, the filing states. Another witness reported seeing Laundrie "talking aggressively" to Petito and that "something seemed off." That witness said Laundrie took Petito's phone, got into the van and attempted, unsuccessfully, to block her from getting inside. The couple eventually drove off, court records say.

Robbins stopped the van near the entrance to Arches National Park after observing the vehicle speeding, swerving and crossing a double yellow line, the filing states.

Robbins and Pratt physically separated Petito and Laundrie and spoke to them away from each other. A distraught Petito, who was "crying uncontrollably," showed officers how Laundrie had violently grabbed her during the earlier altercation, causing cuts on her cheek and arm, according to the filing. Petito told police that Laundrie "gets frustrated with me a lot," the filing states.

A photo that has yet to be released publicly shows blood smeared on Petito's cheek and left eye, potentially indicating that Laundrie had grabbed her across the face, the attorneys said.

"Gabby displayed the classic hallmarks of an abused partner, attempting to take the blame for the fight because she had hit Brian first and that she did not want to be separated from him," the filing states. 

During the police interview, Petito was on the phone with her parents, who offered to pay for a flight home but  backed down when they learned that authorities were involved, court papers said.

Laundrie told officers the couple had been under emotional strain and admitted pushing Petito but only after she had attempted to slap him, the filing said.

He reportedly gave conflicting information to law enforcement — first telling police he did not have a phone before pulling a cellphone from his pocket, according to the court filings. Laundrie  also told police he suggested they take separate walks in downtown Moab following their confrontation, contradicting a witness who saw him attempting to leave in the van without her, court papers say.

The officers did not question Laundrie about the inconsistencies and determined that he — not Petito — was the victim of domestic violence, the notice said.

Responding officers discussed arresting Petito, but ultimately directed them to stay apart for a night, according to police body camera footage of the interaction. 

Nichole Schmidt, Petito's mother, said Monday that watching the body camera footage "is very painful. I wanted to jump to the screen and rescue her."

Laundrie spent the night in a domestic violence shelter while Petito slept in the van. Roughly two weeks later Petito disappeared, sparking a nationwide search.

The FBI has said Laundrie took “responsibility” for Petito’s death in a notebook found near his body. An attorney representing the Laundrie family has released parts of the notebook in which Laundrie wrote: “I ended her life.”

Petito's parents have filed suit against Laundrie's parents, claiming they knew their son killed their daughter and tried to help him flee the country.

"The Moab police, in my view, did not contribute to the death of Gabby Petito in any way," said Steven Bertolino, a Laundrie family attorney. "My understanding of the Moab incident is that Gabby was the aggressor and admitted on camera to hitting Brian first."

The filing said Moab police have been plagued by high turnover, mismanagement and insufficient training.

"They did not have the training that they needed to recognize the clear signs that were evident that morning — that Gabby was a victim and that she was in serious need of immediate help," Stewart said.

102-page report from the head of another Utah police department found Moab police made "several unintentional mistakes."

The report, released in January, found police had probable cause to arrest Petito, failed to get a written statement from the initial 911 caller and incorrectly categorized the incident as "disorderly conduct" when it was "domestic violence."

Gabrielle "Gabby" Petito would still be alive if Moab City police officers protected the Blue Point native from her then-fiance Brian Laundrie following a physical altercation between the couple last August, court records filed in advance of a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Utah-based department allege.

Petito, 22, who had been on a cross-country road trip with fellow Bayport-Blue Point High School graduate Laundrie, was fatally strangled and her body was found in September in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. The FBI named Laundrie, 23, a "person of interest" in her homicide, but he was never charged and he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His remains were found Oct. 20 in a Florida nature reserve.

A notice of claim filed Aug, 5 by Petito's family against the Moab City Police Department, then-Chief Bret Edge, former Assistant Chief Braydon Palmer, officers Daniel Robbins and Eric Pratt and 10 unnamed individuals, asks for $50 million in damages. 

"If the officers had been properly trained and followed the law, Gabby would be alive today," James McConkie, an attorney representing the Petito family said in a statement. "Failure to follow the law can have deadly consequences, as it did in this case."

The filing — a precursor to a civil lawsuit against a government agency or municipality — contends that Petito's death was caused by the "wrongful acts or neglect" of responding officers, including their alleged lack of domestic violence training and alleged failure to follow state law during their Aug. 12, 2021, interaction with the pair.

Brian Stewart, the case's lead attorney, said the lawsuit is not intended to punish individual officers.

"We believe the only effective way to correct these problems is to hold our institutions accountable for their failures, including in law enforcement," Stewart said at a news conference Monday in which Petito's parents and stepparents appeared by Zoom.

Jim Schmidt, Petito's stepfather, said he hopes the suit helps victims of domestic violence come forward.

"As parents, we can never fully wrap our heads around the situation and what happened," he said Monday. "But all we can hope is that Gabby's legacy … will be a positive one."

Moab spokeswoman Lisa Church said the city does not comment on pending litigation.

Petito and Laundrie were on a monthslong trip in her van visiting the west coast, much of which she documented on social media, when they stopped in Moab, according to the court filing. 

A witness who called 911 reported seeing Laundrie "slapping" Petito and that he "hit her" while chasing her down the sidewalk, the filing states. Another witness reported seeing Laundrie "talking aggressively" to Petito and that "something seemed off." That witness said Laundrie took Petito's phone, got into the van and attempted, unsuccessfully, to block her from getting inside. The couple eventually drove off, court records say.

Robbins stopped the van near the entrance to Arches National Park after observing the vehicle speeding, swerving and crossing a double yellow line, the filing states.

Robbins and Pratt physically separated Petito and Laundrie and spoke to them away from each other. A distraught Petito, who was "crying uncontrollably," showed officers how Laundrie had violently grabbed her during the earlier altercation, causing cuts on her cheek and arm, according to the filing. Petito told police that Laundrie "gets frustrated with me a lot," the filing states.

A photo that has yet to be released publicly shows blood smeared on Petito's cheek and left eye, potentially indicating that Laundrie had grabbed her across the face, the attorneys said.

"Gabby displayed the classic hallmarks of an abused partner, attempting to take the blame for the fight because she had hit Brian first and that she did not want to be separated from him," the filing states. 

During the police interview, Petito was on the phone with her parents, who offered to pay for a flight home but  backed down when they learned that authorities were involved, court papers said.

Laundrie told officers the couple had been under emotional strain and admitted pushing Petito but only after she had attempted to slap him, the filing said.

He reportedly gave conflicting information to law enforcement — first telling police he did not have a phone before pulling a cellphone from his pocket, according to the court filings. Laundrie  also told police he suggested they take separate walks in downtown Moab following their confrontation, contradicting a witness who saw him attempting to leave in the van without her, court papers say.

The officers did not question Laundrie about the inconsistencies and determined that he — not Petito — was the victim of domestic violence, the notice said.

Responding officers discussed arresting Petito, but ultimately directed them to stay apart for a night, according to police body camera footage of the interaction. 

"Gabby" Petito's mother, Nichole Schmidt, upper left, wipes a tear...

"Gabby" Petito's mother, Nichole Schmidt, upper left, wipes a tear from her face as other family members look on during a news conference on Zoom on Monday in Salt Lake City.  Credit: AP/Rick Bowmer

Nichole Schmidt, Petito's mother, said Monday that watching the body camera footage "is very painful. I wanted to jump to the screen and rescue her."

Laundrie spent the night in a domestic violence shelter while Petito slept in the van. Roughly two weeks later Petito disappeared, sparking a nationwide search.

The FBI has said Laundrie took “responsibility” for Petito’s death in a notebook found near his body. An attorney representing the Laundrie family has released parts of the notebook in which Laundrie wrote: “I ended her life.”

Petito's parents have filed suit against Laundrie's parents, claiming they knew their son killed their daughter and tried to help him flee the country.

"The Moab police, in my view, did not contribute to the death of Gabby Petito in any way," said Steven Bertolino, a Laundrie family attorney. "My understanding of the Moab incident is that Gabby was the aggressor and admitted on camera to hitting Brian first."

The filing said Moab police have been plagued by high turnover, mismanagement and insufficient training.

"They did not have the training that they needed to recognize the clear signs that were evident that morning — that Gabby was a victim and that she was in serious need of immediate help," Stewart said.

102-page report from the head of another Utah police department found Moab police made "several unintentional mistakes."

The report, released in January, found police had probable cause to arrest Petito, failed to get a written statement from the initial 911 caller and incorrectly categorized the incident as "disorderly conduct" when it was "domestic violence."

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