The two Moab police officers who stopped Gabby Petito and her boyfriend Brian Laundrie weeks before her death acted improperly, an independent investigator found.
The probe was launched in September, after Petito was found dead in Grand Teton National Forest in Wyoming. Laundrie was the only person of interest in her disappearance and death when his remains were discovered in a nature preserve just a few miles from his Florida home the following month.
Moab police officials vowed to review their officers’ handling of the traffic stop, in which Petito and Laundrie said they were involved in a physical fight. The officers made no arrests after the couple agreed to spend the night apart — a decision which critics believe led directly to Petito’s murder only days later.
The independent investigation of the Moab officers’ conduct concluded this week, determining that the policemen made “several unintentional mistakes” and recommending they be placed on probation.
No Arrests Made at Arches Stop
As Breaking Daily News has reported, Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie were pulled over near Arches National Park in Moab on Aug. 12, when their van was spotted driving erratically. A witness had earlier called police to report that the couple was involved in a domestic dispute nearby.
They told officers that they were involved in a physical fight, and both said that Petito hit Laundrie first. In their separate interviews — infamously captured by police body cameras — both expressed remorse and gave matching accounts of the incident, leading officers to believe that the episode was a matter of “mental health” and not domestic violence.
Neither was arrested, and in a few weeks, both would be dead.
The decision to separate the pair instead of making an arrest drew fierce criticism after Petito’s disappearance became a national news story, with many speculating that they could have saved the 23-year-old’s life by filing charges.
In response, Moab police commissioned an independent investigator to review their handling of the incident.
Moab Police Erred, Review Finds
Capt. Brandon Ratcliffe of the Price City Police Department was tapped to oversee the probe. He announced his findings on Thursday.
“I believe the officers responded to a domestic violence call and had probable cause an act of domestic violence had been committed,” he said.
“This should have meant an arrest was made, either by citation or custody,” Ratcliffe added.
At the time of the Aug. 12 traffic stop, officers only had probable cause to arrest Petito — both she and Laundrie stated that she was the aggressor. Still, arresting her and ending their road trip early could potentially have saved her life.
Ratcliffe, for his part, refused to speculate on that matter.
“Would Gabby be alive today if this case was handled differently? That is an impossible question to answer despite it being the answer many people want to know,” he wrote in the report.
“Nobody knows and nobody will ever know the answer to that question.”
Days after being turned loose by Moab police, Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie resumed their cross-country road trip, traveling to Grand Teton near Jackson Hole in Wyoming. Petito’s remains were discovered there on Sept 18.
Officers May Be Suspended
Ratcliffe concluded his report recommending that the officers in question — Eric Pratt and Daniel Robbins — be placed on probation.
Moab city officials have not discussed potential disciplinary measures against the officers, though they did say they intend to “implement the report’s recommendations” on new policies for the police department.
“Based on the report’s findings, the City of Moab believes our officers showed kindness, respect and empathy in their handling of this incident,” their statement read.
Pratt told investigators during the probe that he was still haunted by his handling of the incident.
“I do care. I am devastated about it,” he reportedly said. “I cared that day and I still care. I don’t think the public gets that we … I don’t know if they know we care. I don’t know if they know.”