Police in Utah investigating a physical altercation between Blue Point native Gabrielle Petito and her then-fiance Brian Laundrie last year made "several unintentional mistakes," according to a new report.
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.
Moab City, Utah, police investigated the couple Aug. 12 after receiving a 911 call alleging Laundrie assaulted Petito. Responding officers discussed arresting Petito after she admitted striking Laundrie, but ultimately directed the two to stay away from each other for a night, according to police body camera footage of the interaction. Petito also told police that Laundrie had grabbed her face and left a cut on her cheek.
The 102-page report, which was authored by a captain from another Utah police department, said police had probable cause to arrest Petito. The report also said police failed to get a written statement from the initial 911 caller who said Laundrie struck Petito and said police incorrectly categorized the incident as "disorderly conduct" when it was "domestic violence."
Capt. Brandon Ratcliffe of the police department in Price City, which is about 116 miles north of Moab, conducted the investigation at the direction of Moab Police Chief Brent Edge in response to a complaint following the public release of the body camera footage.
"There are many "what-if’s" that have presented itself as part of this investigation, the primary one being: Would Gabby be alive today if this case was handled differently?" Ratcliffe wrote in the report. "That is an impossible question to answer despite it being the answer many people want to know. Nobody knows and nobody will ever know the answer to that question."
The report, released late Wednesday, made several recommendations to the Moab Police Department, including that responding officers Eric Pratt and Daniel Robbins be placed on probation. The report also recommended more training on investigating domestic violence and local and state laws.
A statement on the Moab City website said the department would implement the report's recommendations and hire a trained domestic violence specialist, and added: "Based on the report’s findings, the City of Moab believes our officers showed kindness, respect and empathy in their handling of this incident."
Neither Ratcliffe nor Edge responded to messages seeking comment Thursday. Lisa Church, a spokeswoman for the city, said Pratt and Robbins remain "on duty" but she declined to comment on personnel matters.
As part of Ratcliffe's investigation, he interviewed both officers and reviewed the body camera footage. Pratt told Ratcliffe that arresting Laundrie "would have been absurd ... unless there are laws for being a [expletive] boyfriend and gaslighting and taking advantage of people mentally and emotionally for your own reasons, which there’s no law against it."
Pratt added, according to the report, that Petito's description of Laundrie grabbing Petito and leaving a cut on her face was "not something I can arrest him for unless I lie on my PC [probable cause] statement or omit important facts. The only person I could arrest was Gabby."
Petito stopped communicating with her family about two weeks after the Moab incident and she was later reported missing by her family. Laundrie returned to his Florida home alone in Petito's van on Sept. 1 and refused to talk to police.
Steven Bertolino, the Laundrie family attorney, said in a statement Thursday: "The Moab officers responded and acted professionally toward both Brian and Gabby. Although the officers may not have followed the letter of the law in not citing Gabby, I believe they did the best they could given the responsiveness of both Brian and Gabby during the traffic stop."
An attorney for the family of Petito did not respond to a message seeking comment.