Review finds police failed to cite Gabby Petito for domestic violence against Brian Laundrie

Under Utah code an arrest should have been "made, either by citation or custody," officials said.

Updated: January 13, 2022 - 10:50pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

A review of the Moab City Police Department's handling of the August 2021 domestic violence incident between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie shortly before Petito disappeared found that the responding officers "made several unintentional mistakes that stemmed from the fact that officers failed to cite Ms. Petito for domestic violence." 

Price City Police Capt. Brandon Ratcliffe conducted the 102-page review after a formal complaint was lodged against the Moab City Police Department.

Ratcliffe found that an assault between the couple did take place, and responding Moab City officers Eric Pratt and Daniel Robbins should have classified the incident as a domestic violence investigation, not as an assault between a male and a female. 

The report states that a witness called 911 when he saw Laundrie "slapping" Petito as they "ran up and down the sidewalk" before he "hit her." When officers spoke with the couple, Petito admitted, "To be honest, I definitely hit him first." Laundrie violently "grabbed" Petito's face, but she defended his actions as self-defense, according to the report.

Because officers had probable cause to determine a domestic violence incident occurred, under Utah code an arrest should have been "made, either by citation or custody," Ratcliffe said.

"Just because Gabby was determined to be the predominant aggressor as it related to this incident, doesn’t mean she was the long-term predominant aggressor in this relationship," Ratcliffe wrote, explaining that often in domestic violence cases, the long-term victim will defend themselves or act out. "There have been many times in my career where someone who we know from past experience to be a long-term victim of domestic violence, gets arrested for committing an act of domestic violence against their long-term abuser."

"It’s very likely Gabby was a long-term victim of domestic violence, whether that be physically, mentally, and/or emotionally," Ratcliffe stated, but "law enforcement could only act on the information they were provided."

"I find it difficult to assign responsibility to anyone other than the person or persons directly responsible for Gabby’s death, weeks after and several hundred miles away from their August 12th incident in Moab," Ratcliffe wrote.

The report recommended Officers Robins and Pratt be placed on probation and undergo additional training. Policy recommendations included implementing a lethality assessment protocol for all domestic violence cases and requiring photographs of injuries.