SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Family members of a 22-year-old woman whose boyfriend admitted to killing her last year have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Moab Police Department, claiming that their negligence resulted in his death weeks later.
The lawsuit filed Thursday is the latest development in the high-profile case surrounding the death of Gabby Petito. What started as a missing person case last summer has surfed on a true obsession with crime to become a social media sensation, attracting amateur sleuths online and the kind of global attention that can help authorities locate missing persons.
Petito and her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, 23, were arrested by police in Moab, Utah last summer but were ultimately not cited for domestic violence amid signs of distress and their own statements about a physical conflict.
Petito’s body was later found on the edge of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming after being strangled. Laundrie was the only person ever identified by law enforcement as a person of interest and was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after returning alone to her parents’ home in Florida.
The contrast between the cheerful facade displayed on Petito’s widely followed Instagram account – where she chronicled her trip across the country in a van to tens of thousands of followers – and the darker reality of the domestic violence she has lived before her death has captivated millions and sparked an unprecedented national conversation about dating violence. It also drew criticism from authorities and the news media for giving more attention to missing white women like Petito than to missing and murdered Indigenous women and women of color.
Petito’s mother, father and other family members have sought to keep his name in the news, hoping to honor his legacy and ensure signs of abuse are recognized by those around him. authorities able to intervene, they said.
“There are laws put in place to protect victims. And those laws have not been followed. And we don’t want that to happen to anyone else,” said Nicole Schmidt, Petito’s mother. , voice trembling.
Schmidt, other family members and their team of attorneys stood in front of a photo of Petito smiling in a slot canyon during a press conference Thursday in Salt Lake City.
The wrongful death lawsuit seeks $50 million in damages from the police department of Moab, a rural Utah town known for being a gateway to national parks filled with canyons and red rock mesas.
He places the blame for Petito’s death on city police officers, who did not issue a citation for domestic violence after a passerby called to report a dispute between Petito and Laundrie. In doing so, the lawsuit claims officers failed to heed signs of violence they should have been trained to notice.
The lawsuit also claims that the officers ‘trained Gabby to provide responses that officers used to justify their decision not to enforce Utah law,’ which requires action to be taken in response to incidents of domestic violence. .
Moab Police Officer Eric Pratt “was fundamentally biased in his approach to the investigation, choosing to believe Gabby’s attacker, ignoring evidence that Gabby was the victim, and intentionally looking for loopholes to circumvent the demands of Utah law and her duty to protect Gabby.”
The complaint bases this allegation of bias on an unnamed woman called “Witness 1”, who alleges that Pratt threatened to kill her after their relationship ended when he was chief of police in Salina, Utah, another rural town. .
After the lawsuit was filed, the city of Moab said the death was tragic but not the fault of their police department. Pratt did not respond to a phone call seeking comment, and the city of Moab said no city or police department employee would comment further at this time.
“Our officers acted with kindness, respect and empathy toward Ms. Petito,” city spokeswoman Lisa Adams said in a statement. “No one could have predicted the tragedy that would unfold weeks later and hundreds of miles away, and the city of Moab will vigorously defend itself against this lawsuit.”
The lawsuit follows a Notice of Claim filed in August, notifying Moab that Petito’s family intended to seek damages for wrongful death. An independent investigation in January blamed police for making “several unintentional mistakes”, including failing to issue a citation for domestic violence after Petito told police she had hit her boyfriend.