Late YouTuber, Gabby Petito’s family has filed a lawsuit against police in Moab, Utah, United States, accusing them of negligence that resulted in the 22-year-old’s death last year.
The family is seeking $50 million in damages.
The lawsuit, filed by attorneys representing Joseph and Tara Petito and Nichole and Jim Schmidt, names the Moab Police Department; three of its officers: “Palmer,” “Pratt” and Daniel Robbins; and 10 other unnamed defendants and accuses them of “negligent failure” in their investigation into an alleged assault between Petito and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, several weeks prior to her murder.
They also accuse all of the defendants of “wrongful death,” saying that Petito’s “death was caused by their wrongful acts or neglect.”
The body of Petito, a YouTuber, with a huge Instagram and YouTube following was found on Sept. 19, 2021, near a remote campground in Grand Teton National Forest, just over a week after her family reported her missing to the police.
She had been on a cross-country trip with Laundrie, her fiance, who was also found dead weeks later in a reserve in Florida after going on the low.
Police found a notebook near his remains in which he confessed to killing his fiancée.
Prior to her death, while on a van trip with her fiance, Petito spoke to several officers with the Moab Police Department after she and Laundrie had a verbal and physical fight in August 2021. Attorneys hired by Petito’s parents allege that the officers “failed in their duty to protect Gabby.”
According to the lawsuit, someone who called 911 reported seeing Laundrie slap Petito and hit her while chasing her down a sidewalk in Moab. Another witness said they saw the two “talking aggressively” and that “something seemed off” . The witnesses also said it appeared Laundrie took her phone, got in their van and tried to leave her, before she climbed over him and into the van.
An officer, identified by the lawsuit as Daniel Robbins, found the couple’s van speeding down a highway, swerving across the center yellow line and hitting a curb, the lawsuit said. The van then stopped outside of Arches National Park, where Robbins separated the two and spoke to them.
Robbins was later joined by his superior officer, identified as Officer Pratt, and two park rangers.
Body cam photos from the officers’ interviews with the two were previously released to the public, but the lawsuit says the photos don’t paint the full picture of what actually happened. An unreleased photo of Petito from that day allegedly shows smeared blood on her cheek and her left eye, as well as the fact that Laundrie grabbed her across her nose and mouth.
The lawsuit also includes the photos that were released to the public, one of which shows a mark on her skin.
When asked about it, Petito told the officer Laundrie had grabbed her.
During questioning, Petito showed “the classic hallmarks of an abused partner,” according to the lawsuit, by asking to stay with Laundrie.
In turn, Laundrie told police that Petito tried to slap him, and he pushed her. At one point he said he tried to take Petito’s phone because he didn’t have his own, but he later showed officers his own phone. Laundrie also claimed he wanted he and Petito to take separate walks while in Moab, which contradicts witness’ statements that he tried to drive off in the van.
The lawsuit accuses the officers of failing to question Laundrie on his inconsistencies while reporting. Instead, they found Petito to be the “primary aggressor” and Laundrie the victim. At this point, Pratt told the two he would have to arrest Petitio, which neither of them wanted.
Pratt called his superior, Assistant Chief Palmer, who told him to “carefully read the assault statute” and decide what to do. The lawsuit claims Pratt only read part of it, and had an incorrect understanding of the law — he believed that assault is only a crime if the person “intended to cause bodily injury.”
Pratt then told Robbins, who was his junior, to decide. Robbins said he didn’t believe Petito and decided not to file charges, but to pass it on to the city attorney. Meanwhile, Pratt warned Robbins that if the couple disagreed with his decision “you might hear about it in a very negative way,” the lawsuit said.
In consultation with Pratt, officer Robbins split up Laundrie and Petito for the night. Pratt said that if the couple later found their way back to one another it wouldn’t be their responsibility, the lawsuit alleges.
Soon thereafter, Laundrie strangled and beat Petito to death in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Forest.
The family is now seeking $50 million in damages.
Petito’s family also filed a lawsuit against Laundrie’s parents, whom they allege knew what happened to their daughter and where her body was while she was still missing. They are seeking $30,000 in damages.