MOAB, Utah — Gabby Petito's family announced plans on Monday to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the Moab City Police Department.
In a press release, lawyers representing Joseph and Tara Petito and Nichole and Jim Schmidt claim that officers failed to adequately respond to the Aug. 12 domestic dispute between Gabby and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, just weeks before authorities say he killed her.
"While the full evidence has not yet been made public, when it is released, it will clearly show that if the officers had been properly trained and followed the law, Gabby would still be alive today," attorney James McConkie said in the release.
Police body camera footage, which captured the aftermath of the Aug. 12 dispute, shows Petito, visibly upset, describing a physical fight between her and Laundrie.
Petito explained that Laundrie was frustrated with her, locked her out of their van and told her to "go take a breather." She goes on to tell officers that she hit her fiancé because he was telling her to "shut up."
Laundrie's response was to grab her arm and face, Petito said in the video.
"He, like, grabbed me with his nail and I guess that's why it looks...definitely I was cut right here [points to cheek] because I can feel it. When I touch it, it burns," Petito told officers, according to the press release.
Petito's family claims that an additional photo, which has not yet been released to the public, shows a close-up of their daughter's face "where blood is smeared on her cheek and left eye."
During a news conference on Monday, Gabby's mother, Nichole Schmidt, described watching the video as "very painful."
"I wanted to jump through the screen and rescue her," she said.
The responding officers, Eric Pratt and Daniel Robbins, ultimately determined the incident was more of an emotional break or anxiety attack and arranged for the couple to separate for the night to calm down.
An independent investigation into the officers' response found that Pratt and Robbins made "several unintentional mistakes" and it was likely that Petito “was a long-term victim of domestic violence, whether that be physically, mentally, and/or emotionally.”
Investigators said the dispute should have been classified as domestic violence and followed up on. They recommended both officers be placed on probation and receive domestic violence training.
Officers Pratt and Robbins are named as defendants in the notice of claim along with Chief Bret Edge, Assistant Chief Braydon Palmer and the Moab City Police Department.
The family plans to seek $50 million in damages for claims, including the defendants' negligent failure:
- to understand and enforce the law of the state of Utah,
- to investigate Brian's self-evidently false claims during their interviews with him,
- to properly train the officers to investigate domestic violence situations
- and to properly asses the circumstances, including to identify Brian as the true primary aggressor.
Petito's family is also bringing wrongful death claims against the defendants.
“The purpose of this lawsuit is just one part of the family’s broader effort to raise awareness and education...to protect victims of domestic violence and to help make sure that our governmental institutions are held to account," attorney Brian Stewart said at the news conference.
Stewart said the family wants to ensure that law enforcement has the proper resources and training materials “to prevent tragedies such as this one from happening again.”
"Use her story, learn from it," Gabby's father, Joe Petito, said. "Use her as the light that she was to us."
Notices of claims are required before people can sue government entities. Stewart explained that the government has 60 days to respond before the family moves forward with filing the lawsuit.
10 Tampa Bay reached out to the City of Moab which declined to comment on "pending litigation."
Gabby Petito was found dead in September in Bridger-Teton National Forest days after she was reported missing. Authorities say Laundrie later killed himself in Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, leaving behind a notebook in which he confessed to her murder.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233.