Gabby Petito Case: Moab Report States Police Made Mistakes During Encounter

by Allison Hambrick
BLUE POINT, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: A sign honors the death of Gabby Petito on September 24, 2021 in Blue Point, New York. Gabby Petito's hometown of Blue Point put out candles along main streets and in driveways to honor the teenager who has riveted the nation since the details of her death became known. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

New findings in the Gabby Petito case reveal that officers from the Moab Police department neglected to issue citations for domestic violence. Prior to her tragic death, Petito and boyfriend Brian Laundrie encountered police in Utah. A 911 caller reported “the gentleman slapping the girl,” so officers responded to the domestic disturbance. The officers issued no citations, but the incident lacked proper documentation.

As a result, Capt. Brandon Ratcliffe of the Price City Police Department in Utah launched an independent review. A lawyer filed a complaint about the handling of the incident, leading to the investigation. The findings concluded two major things: officers mishandled the report, and it lacked details.

According to the officers, Petito slapped Laundrie first, but the officers’ reports lacked details of any injuries on her or Laundrie. Moreover, Officers did not ask Laundrie about a scratch on her cheek, even though Petito had told them that Laundrie grabbed her face. According to the report, the incident “more accurately categorized as a mental/emotional health ‘break’ than a domestic assault.”

“Both written reports are missing significant details as it relates to the who, what, when, where, and how as it relates to this incident,” Ratcliffe explained. Additionally, police split Petito and Laundrie for the night. She stayed in the van, while officers took Laundrie to a hotel.

Last year, Petito’s case garnered national attention after her family reported that they hadn’t heard from her since August. When Laundrie returned to his home in Florida without Petito, he became a person of interest in her case. Authorities discovered Petito’s remains in Bridger-Teton National Forest on Sept. 19. Laundrie reportedly took his own life in October.

Officers Failed to Cite Domestic Violence in Gabby Petito Case

Radcliffe says it was “an impossible question to answer” if the officers’ actions could have saved Petito. He insisted that the blame rests with “the person or persons directly responsible … weeks after and several hundred miles away from their August 12th incident in Moab.” He recommended that the officers be placed on probation. As a result, the department seeks to reform its approach to domestic disputes.

“Based on the report’s findings, the City of Moab believes our officers showed kindness, respect and empathy in their handling of this incident,” the Moab Police Department wrote in a statement. “As the Moab City Police Department continues its daily mission to serve our community, efforts are underway to provide additional resources and tools to assist the in addressing domestic violence incidents. Plans are in place to add a trained domestic violence specialist to oversee incidents investigated by Moab officers. We also will implement added and ongoing training and testing to ensure that the officers understand policies and procedures.”

“I am devastated about it,” said Officer Eric Pratt, who responded to the call. “I cared that day and I still care.”