Report details mistakes made by Moab police during Petito, Laundrie call

Published: January 13, 2022 3:25 PM EST
Updated: January 13, 2022 5:50 PM EST

A new report detailing mistakes made by the Moab, Utah police during the domestic violence incident between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie shows it was not handled properly.

The report was handled by an outside investigator from the Moab Police Department. In it, he pieces together some of the mistakes made by police officers, including classifying the call as a mental health crisis instead of a domestic violence incident.

They also failed to talk with the original 911 caller who reported he saw Laundrie hitting Petito.

Police also failed to take into account a scratch Petito had on her face that showed she was hurt.

That said, the investigator came to the conclusion that “it’s very likely (Petito) was a long-term victim of domestic violence,”  but in this case was the primary aggressor.

One of the biggest mistakes was that Moab police failed to cite or arrest Petito.

When it comes to laws in Utah and most states, the officer has to arrest or cite any person believed to have committed domestic violence.

Linda Oberhaus, the CEO of Abused Women and Children’s Center in Collier County, said all the police had to do was call a domestic violence advocate and the investigation would have gone much differently.

For Oberhaus it’s impossible to watch that video and not think of all of the underlying factors that brought police to the side of the road in Moab.

“It’s not very unusual at all for officers to arrive on scene, you have one person who’s cool and calm. Usually, that’s the aggressor. And then you have someone else who is just completely distraught and emotional. And that tends to be the victim. And that was clearly what happened in this case,” Oberhaus said.

The investigator brings up one mistake the officers made.

He wrote: “There was no further investigation into the complaint made by Gabby about Brian grabbing her face and causing the scratch on her cheek.”

The investigator wrote it was his assumption that by grabbing Petito’s face, it “was his attempt to ‘make’ Gabby calm down or ‘make’ her shut up.”

He called the act “extremely personal, violent and controlling.”

The scratch on her face was ignored by officers on scene because Petito said she hit Laundrie first.

“I think that she was absolutely downplaying the incident and what happened, she was taking responsibility for something that maybe she really wasn’t fully responsible for,” Oberhaus said.

As for law enforcement’s behavior, FGCU professor of forensic students a former police officer, Dave Thomas said it happens all the time.

“An officer has a sworn duty to make the arrest. In there it says you ‘will.’ It doesn’t say you can, it doesn’t say if you want to, it says you will,” Thomas said. “Every time an officer makes the decision to step outside the policy, or the law is about every time that they end up screwing up really bad.”

What went wrong was officers found a loophole to keep Petito out of custody and chalked up the incident to mental health crisis instead of a domestic violence call.

Thomas said one good that can come from the report is that other agencies can learn from it.

Thomas said if he was a supervisor in a law enforcement agency, he would discuss the report during patrol briefings.

“Because what you don’t want is somebody continuing to do the same thing, so once you’ve done that, then when we talk about punishment, there’s no, there’s no easy way to do this. That means you’re probably going to get fired because we’ve done what we needed to do.”

The report advised that the officers involved in the call be placed on probation if they weren’t on it already. There is to be more training for officers and the city is going to hire a domestic violence specialist that can help oversee these investigations.

Read the full report below or by clicking on the link.

Click to access Combined-Statement-and-Investigative-Report-Petito-Laundrie-Incident-1-1.pdf