Gabby Petito talks to an officer during a Utah traffic stop...

Gabby Petito talks to an officer during a Utah traffic stop on Aug. 12, 2021, in this image taken from police body camera video provided by the Moab City Police Department.  Credit: AP

The family of Gabrielle "Gabby" Petito filed a $50 million lawsuit Thursday against a Utah police department, alleging that the Blue Point native would be alive if officers had followed the law during a traffic stop two weeks before her death.

The suit blames Petito's death on the "deeply flawed" investigation by the Moab City Police Department of officers who responded to a 911 call on Aug. 2, 2021, after a witness reported seeing her fiance, Brian Laundrie, hit her near Arches National Park. 

Responding officers "treated Brian as if he were the victim of domestic abuse rather than the perpetrator," states the lawsuit, which was filed in Salt Lake City on behalf of Petito's parents, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt.

Gabby Petito, 22, who had been on a cross-country road trip with Laundrie, a fellow Bayport-Blue Point High School graduate, was fatally strangled. Her body was found in September 2021 in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. The FBI named Laundrie, 23, a "person of interest" in her homicide, but he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound before he could potentially be charged. His remains were found Oct. 20, 2021, in a Florida nature preserve.

“We feel we need to bring justice because she could have been protected that day,” Schmidt said Thursday during a news conference in Utah. “There are laws put in place to protect victims, and those laws were not followed.”

Joseph Petito added: “No one … wants to be here. We’d give it up in a second if she was back.” 

The lawsuit contends that Moab police failed to properly train officers in assessing the signs of domestic violence.

In response, Moab released a statement calling Petito's death "a terrible tragedy" while insisting its officers were not responsible for her death.

"Ms. Petito is believed to have died in Wyoming in late August 2021, more than two weeks after she and Brian Laundrie visited Moab and interacted with Moab City Police," the statement said. "At that time, our officers acted with kindness, respect, and empathy toward Ms. Petito … No one could have predicted the tragedy that would occur weeks later and hundreds of miles away."

The lawsuit states that one of the two officers involved in the traffic stop, Eric Pratt, has a history of domestic abuse, using intimidation and threats of physical violence against sexual partners.

"He was fundamentally biased in his approach to the investigation, identifying with Gabby's abuser, ignoring the victim and her injuries and intentionally looking for loopholes to get around the requirements of Utah law and his duty to protect Gabby," said Brian Stewart, an attorney representing the Petito family. 

Moab City, which is representing Pratt, declined additional comment.

The witness who called 911 reported seeing Laundrie slapping Petito while chasing her down the sidewalk. Another witness reported seeing Laundrie "talking aggressively" to Petito and that "something seemed off." 

Police stopped the van after observing the vehicle speeding, swerving and crossing a double yellow line, the suit states.

A distraught Petito showed officers how Laundrie had violently grabbed her during the earlier altercation, causing cuts on her cheek and arm, according to the suit. 

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.

The officers determined that Laundrie — not Petito — was the victim of domestic violence, and directed them to stay apart for a night, according to police body camera footage of the interaction.

"The purpose of this lawsuit is to honor Gabby’s legacy by demanding accountability and working toward systemic changes to protect victims of domestic abuse and violence and prevent such tragedies in the future," said James McConkie, another Petito family attorney.

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