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Report finds Utah police made mistakes in encounter with Gabby Petito, Brian Laundrie

Police in Moab responded to a domestic incident between Petito and Laundrie on Aug. 12, a month before Petito’s body was found in Wyoming.
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The Moab, Utah, police officers who encountered Gabby Petito and her fiancé a month before her body was found in Wyoming made several mistakes, an independent review released Wednesday has found.

The review, conducted by Capt. Brandon Ratcliffe of the Price City Police Department in Utah, found that the officers who responded to an Aug. 12 incident between Petito and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, misclassified the incident. Their reports also lacked details, the review determined.

The independent investigation was conducted after a lawyer filed a formal complaint raising questions about how the incident was handled. 

The encounter began after police received a 911 call about a “domestic disturbance” involving two people driving a van. An officer pulled over the van, which Laundrie was driving, on a road heading to Arches National Park after it crossed the double yellow line and struck a curb, according to the report. 

Image: Gabby Petito
Gabby Petito.@gabspetito via Instagram

Petito told officers that she slapped Laundrie and hit him first, but the officers’ reports lacked details or documentation of any injury she suffered, and no one appeared to ask Laundrie about a scratch on her cheek, the review found. Petito had told officers that Laundrie grabbed her face. 

One officer wrote in a report that it appeared that the incident was “more accurately categorized as a mental/emotional health ‘break’ than a domestic assault.”

The review found that the incident should have been classified as domestic violence, which would have required officers to make an arrest or issue a citation, which would have been against Petito, Ratcliffe said in the report.

State law about domestic violence also would have required a report to be sent to prosecutors, which was not done because the incident was mischaracterized as disorderly conduct, the report says. 

No statement was taken from the initial 911 caller who reported “the gentleman slapping the girl” before the couple left in the van, according to the report.

“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 wrote.

The officers ultimately told Petito and Laundrie that no one would be charged and that they had to spend the night apart and were not to have any contact until the next day, the report says. Petito was left with the van, and police took Laundrie to a motel. 

Petito and Laundrie had been on a cross-country trip in the van, which they documented online. 

Petito’s family on Long Island, New York, said they last heard from her in late August. Her body was found Sept. 19 at a campground in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming, and her death was ruled a homicide.

Laundrie was named a person of interest in Petito’s disappearance after he returned to Florida in the van without her on Sept. 1. Laundrie disappeared and was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Florida’s Carlton Reserve in October.

Ratcliffe wrote that it was “an impossible question to answer” whether Petito, 22, would be alive today if the officers had treated the incident differently. He said blame for her death rests with “the person or persons directly responsible ... weeks after and several hundred miles away from their August 12th incident in Moab.”

The review recommends that the two officers, Eric Pratt and Daniel Scott Robbins, be placed on probation.

Pratt has been with the Moab Police Department since 2018 and has 16 years of law enforcement experience, the report says. Robbins was hired in May, and he was in the final phase of a field training program.

Phone numbers for Robbins and Pratt could not immediately be found Wednesday night. 

Pratt said in the report that he accepted responsibility for any actions he took that were found to be wrong.

"I am devastated about it," he said in an interview included in the review. "I cared that day and I still care."

Robbins said in the report that he knows he made mistakes and has learned from the encounter.

The report also recommends additional training and policy changes — including a policy that photographs be taken of the injuries of everyone involved in incidents.

The city of Moab said in a statement that it intends to follow the report’s recommendations. It said that the officers made a series of unintentional mistakes and that it believes they acted with respect and empathy.

CLARIFICATION (Jan. 13, 2:44 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article mischaracterized a finding by the independent review into the Moab police officers’ encounter with Petito and Laundrie. Officers did not appear to ask Laundrie about a scratch on Petito’s neck, not both of them.