Bret Edge, the police chief of Moab, Utah, is taking an unexpected leave of absence. The Moab Police Department – and Utah police, in general – have been in the spotlight recently over two cases that have seemingly been botched: the double murder of same-sex couple Kylen Schulte and Crystal Turner and, of course, the violent fight between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie, which occurred in Moab on Aug. 12.
Officers in Bret Edge’s department spoke to Petito, and to her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, after a passerby reported that he had seen a man slapping a woman near Arches National Park.
Chief Bret Edge said last week that the department would be seeking an independent review of the incident, to consider whether its officers should have done more, including whether they ought to have made an arrest.
Why is Edge taking leave now? The only official explanation is that he has requested leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. But a number of critics feel he let Brian Laundrie slip through his fingers. Now Laundrie is missing, and he continues to elude authorities.
In a recent story, Deseret News wrote the following headline: How an unsolved double homicide and Gabby Petito’s final days have cast a dark cloud over sunny Moab.
The story starts: “Every day for the past two weeks, Sean-Paul Schulte sits at the same picnic table at Swanny City Park in Moab, Utah.”
“He brings cookies, flowers, pictures of his family, meticulously painted rocks, and two pairs of black boots from his daughter, Kylen Schulte, and her wife, Crystal Turner, who on Aug. 18 were found dead in the La Sal Mountains outside of town.”
Two Cases, No Answers
There are two unsolved cases hanging like a dark cloud over Bret Edge, the police department, and all of Moab.
The cases are seemingly unconnected. But now people following the timeline have figured out that the night police were called because Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito were having a fight, they were outside Moonflower Food Co-Op, where Kylen Schulte worked.
Then, when the police separated Brian and Gabby, Brian Laundrie spent the night at Bowen Motel, by Woody’s Tavern, the tavern where Crystal Turner and Kylen Schulte were last seen.
These may simply be coincidences. But there are three families who don’t have answers right now: the Petitos, the Turners and the Schultes. And the Moab Police could help them fill in the blanks.
Will Bret Edge Return?
The city said in a statement, “We cannot provide any additional details or information. The Assistant Police Chief will be in charge of the department until Chief Edge returns.”
No date has been specified as to that return.
There has been speculation that Bret Edge’s leave is in response to the intense scrutiny of the passage of Petito and Laundrie through Utah.
A Moab spokesperson has also observed, “[We] recognize how the death of Ms Petito more than two weeks later in Wyoming might lead to speculation, in hindsight, about actions taken during the incident in Moab.” But, the spokesperson continued, the city is determined to “gather the underlying facts and evidence necessary to make a thorough, informed evaluation of such actions.”
Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie’s Fight in Moab
That stop in Moab, Utah, recorded on bodycam footage, has become an important piece of the overall puzzle that the Federal Bureau of Investigations and state and local authorities are looking to, in trying to understand a cross-country trip gone terribly wrong.
In a 911 call, the caller claimed that “the gentlemen was slapping the girl.” Yet when police arrived at the scene, they noticed scratch marks on Laundrie’s hands, arms, and torso.
In the report, they listed Laundrie as the victim and Petito as the suspect, although they decided that this was a “mental health crisis” rather than a domestic assault. They separated the couple, bringing Laundrie to a hotel and leaving Petito in possession of the van. The two reunited and resumed to their travels the following morning.
The officers, and by extension their department and its chief, have come under critical scrutiny in part because Utah law says that officers must make an arrest or issue a citation if they have “probable cause to believe that an act of domestic violence has been committed.”
It seems strange to many that Moab police zeroed in on Petito as the aggressor. The dispatcher call “states seeing a male hit a female, domestic.”
The officers did see scratch marks on Laundrie, but scratches are often a defensive wound.
If Brian Laundrie Were Arrested in Moab, Would Gabby Petito Be Alive Today?
Phillip Holloway, a criminal defense attorney, told Fox News that a different decision by the police officers on the site at Moab could have saved Petito’s life.
“At a bare minimum, the investigation on the side of the road developed, I believe, probable cause that would have been sufficient to charge one or both of them with some type of domestic violence,” he said.
“It’s this small town that I could run around in, raise havoc, without having to worry,” Payton Gregory, who grew up in Moab, told Deseret News. “But now that this stuff is happening, I can’t go camping, I can’t walk around at night.”
“Moab looks like a super happy, small little town. Stuff like this doesn’t happen here.”