HLN Detectives premieres “Toxic Love: The Gabby Petito Tragedy” on Saturday, November 5 at 9 pm ET/PT.
Gabby Petito’s parents have filed a $50 million wrongful-death lawsuit against the Moab Police Department, alleging negligence in their relationship with the 22-year-old and her fiance, Brian Laudry, two weeks before her death last summer.
“The purpose of this lawsuit is to honor Gabby’s legacy by demanding accountability and to protect victims of domestic violence and abuse, and to make systemic changes to prevent similar tragedies in the future,” attorney James W. McConkie said in a statement.
The lawsuit accuses the department and its officers of failing to follow the law and protect Petition in an August domestic violence investigation — just weeks before Laundrie’s murder. The lawsuit alleges officers determined Pettitton was the primary aggressor in the relationship and violated Utah laws regarding domestic violence. He also accuses the police department of not being able to properly train them in these matters.
At a news conference Thursday, her parents said they filed the lawsuit to ensure police made those changes to help other victims of abuse.
“We don’t want anyone here, all four of us. If she comes back, we’ll leave in a second,” said her father, Joseph Petito.
Her mother, Nicole Schmidt, said: “We feel we have to bring justice because she could be protected that day.” “There are laws in place to protect victims, and those laws were not followed, and we don’t want this to happen to anyone.”
The city of Moab issued a statement Thursday saying it would defend the lawsuit, denying responsibility for the death.
“The death of Gabriel Petito in Wyoming is extremely tragic, and our deepest sympathies go out to the Petito and Schmidt families for their tragic loss. “At the same time, it is clear that the officers of the Moab Police Department are not responsible for the murder of Gabriel Petito,” the city said.
The city said its officials “treated Ms. Petito with kindness, respect and compassion” during their interactions.
“Attorneys for the Petito family seem to suggest that our officers could have seen the future based on this single interaction. In fact, on August 12th, no one could have predicted the tragedy that would unfold weeks later and hundreds of miles away, and the City of Moab vigorously defends this allegation.” The city said.
Petito was 22 when she and her fiance Laundrie, 23, embarked on a road trip through the American West last summer, documenting their #VanLife experience in sunny posts online.
Despite their online appearances, their relationship was rocky and by turns violent. Petito was reported missing after she returned to her parents’ Florida home on Sept. 1 and her parents couldn’t find her, prompting a nationwide manhunt to lure her into online crime.
Her body was found several weeks later in the Grand Teton National Forest, and it was determined that she had died of strangulation. Laundry subsequently disappeared in a Florida nature preserve, and in mid-October her body was found with a diary in which she believed she had killed her.
In August, Petito’s parents filed a notice of claim against the police department, the first step in starting a lawsuit. Her parents also took legal action against the Launery estate and filed a lawsuit against the parents, alleging that they caused emotional distress by failing to take action to search for Petito.
A new video shows what Gabby Petito said to the police
The 35-page indictment filed Thursday is based on a traffic stop last August after a witness told officers he “saw Brian beating Gabby.”
After police exceeded the speed limit, a white Ford van pulled over and suddenly left its lane and struck him off the road, according to a police report.
Footage captured by police body cameras shows Moab, Utah, police officers talking to Petito and Laundry, who said Petito hit her fiance first. The officers noticed that Petito had cuts on her face and arm, and that “during the argument, she showed how violently Brian had grabbed her face,” Laundry told police, “she was very upset with me.”
But Petito, who was at fault for the incident, “exhibited the hallmarks of an abused partner,” the notice of claim says. The officers are “not overloaded,” the ad says.
According to the family’s claim, the photo, taken at the time and not made public, “shows a close-up of Gabby’s face with blood smeared across her cheek and left eye, revealing the violent nature of Brian’s attack.”
Laundry told police the couple had been under tension. He admitted that he pushed Pettitte away when she tried to slap him and that he took her phone, saying he didn’t have it – and that he was afraid she would leave him. However, later in the interview, he pulled out his own phone and gave the number to the police, according to the suit.
Despite the break-in and laundry discrepancy, one of the officers said Petito had to be booked into jail because under Utah’s domestic violence statute, she was considered the primary aggressor and laundry victim.
Both Petito and Laundrie protested, and the officers eventually agreed not to charge Petito if she and Laundrie agreed to spend the night separately.
An independent investigator’s review of the case by the Moab Police Department – the captain of the police department in Price, Utah, 115 miles away – recommended that the two responding officers “made a number of inadvertent errors” and remain on probation. ” — that is, not citing anyone for domestic violence, even though there was enough evidence to convict Petiton.
An investigative report released in January recommended new policies for the department, including more domestic violence training and legal training.
The city did not issue any discipline to the two officers at the time, but said it “intends to implement the report’s recommendations” regarding new policies for the police department, including more domestic violence training and legal training.