Utah police made “several unintentional mistakes” in dealing with a domestic violence incident involving Gabby Petito and her fiancé, Brian Laundre, weeks before the 22-year-old woman was found dead in September last year, an independent investigation has found .
The errors stemmed from the fact that Moab City police officers failed to cite Petito for domestic violence, report said.
At the time of the August 12 incident, police pulling the couple onto a Utah freeway did not arrest them or question Laundrie at length, suggesting Petito had been the aggressor. Later, after she was reported missing, police released bodycam footage of the exchange on Aug. 12, showing a desperate and sobbing Petito saying she had been beaten by her boyfriend but that she “hit him first.”
It later emerged that a witness had called 911 to report seeing a man hit a woman near a van that matched the description of the one the couple had driven on a cross-country trip, which they documented on social media.
In another officer’s bodycam video released later, Petito said Laundrie had “grabbed” her face and left a scratch.
The investigation revealed that no statement was ever obtained from the original 911 caller, who reported seeing Laundri beat Petito.
“It is important in any study to interview and have opinions from all those involved in order to better form a conclusion,” it said.
Captain Brandon Ratcliffe of the Price City Police Department, wrote in the independent investigation report that “just because Gabby was determined to be the dominant aggressor, as it was related to this incident, does not mean she was the long-term dominant aggressor in this relationship.”
“In cases of domestic violence, the long-term victim often gets to a point emotionally where they defend themselves or act in such a way where law enforcement is called,” he wrote. “There have been many times in my career where a person we know from past experience is a long-term victim of domestic violence is arrested for having committed domestic violence against their long-term perpetrator.”
He recommended improvements to policies and training of the department, including further training in the investigation of domestic violence, legal training and strengthening the review process for incident reports.
The city of Moab said it “believes our officers showed kindness, respect and empathy in their handling of this incident” and that it would implement additional training and resources to deal with incidents of domestic violence.
Petito’s remains were found Sept. 19 near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, and her cause of death was determined to be homicide. Laundrie disappeared in September after first returning home to her family in Florida. He was found dead in a nature reserve in Florida in October; an autopsy determined his cause of death as suicide.