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Report: Moab police officers made several mistakes during Petito-Laundrie traffic stop

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KUTV

MOAB, Utah (KUTV) – The City of Moab on Wednesday released the results of an investigation into the police department for its handling of a fight between Gabby Petito and her fiancé Brian Laundrie.

The investigation was conducted by Capt. Brandon Ratcliffe of the Price City Police Department in response to a formal complaint that was filed with the Moab Police Department after the August 12, 2021 incident. The report found Officers Eric Pratt and Daniel Robbins made several mistakes, including not making an arrest.

“After reviewing all the information and speaking with the officers, I am confident and comfortable in stating the mistakes that were made were not made intentionally," Ratcliffe wrote. "The officers did not know what they were doing was wrong at the time and did not make the decision to benefit themselves in any way. They both believed at the time they were making the right decision based on the totality of the circumstances that were presented.”

Ratcliffe found the officers had probable cause of domestic violence and should have made an arrest. Not doing so, Ratcliffe noted, violated state law. He also said officers did not properly document Petito's injuries or provide domestic violence resources. There were also problems with the police report, Ratcliffe said.

BACKGROUND

The report recommended probation for the officers, providing additional domestic violence investigation training, and legal training "to ensure officers understand state laws and statutes." The report also recommended conducting reviews into police policies and software and strengthening the process for incident reports.

In a statement late Wednesday afternoon, the city of Moab said it "intends to implement the report's recommendations."

Asked if the two officers are on probation or if they have been, Moab city spokesperson Lisa Church said the city does not comment on personnel matters. Thursday afternoon, Church confirmed the officers are currently on duty.

Gary Rider, a Petito family spokesperson, told KUTV 2News Thursday morning, "We’ve seen the report. The family has no further comment at this time, but we are confident that the real facts in this case will eventually be made clear."

Petito, Laundrie stopped in Moab

Moab Police officers responded to a 911 call on Aug. 12, 2021 from a person who reportedly witnessed Laundrie slap Petito. Police later pulled the couple over at Arches National Park.

Officers who responded to the call reported Petito was in a "manic state" after she thought Laundrie was going to leave her in Moab without a ride.

Authorities didn't make any arrests or issue any citations. One of the responding officers wrote in his report that Petito was "struggling with her mental health."

“After evaluating the totality of the circumstances, I do not believe the situation escalated to the level of a domestic assault as much as that of a mental health crisis," according to a report by Officer Robbins. "I then determined the most appropriate course of action would be to help separate the parties for the night so they could reset their mental states without interference from one another.”

Approximately one month later, Petito's family reported they had been unable to contact her. Petito was later discovered deceased in Grand Teton National Park, which authorities ruled as a homicide. Laundrie disappeared, and his body was eventually discovered in a Florida nature preserve. Laundrie's family attorney said he died as a result of suicide.

According to the Price Police Department report examining the officers' conduct, a statement was never obtained from the original 911 caller.

Moab police later released body cam footage of the incident.

Moab officers criticized

After the footage was released, the mother of slain University of Utah student Lauren McClusky expressed her disappointment with the way the officers handled the domestic violence incident between the couple.

"Police didn't think Lauren was in danger when she reported to them because she was stoic," Jill McCluskey tweeted. "Police didn't think Gabby Petito was in danger because she was crying and her abuser said she was crazy."

City officials announced an investigation into police would take place shortly after the body cam video was made public.

"The Moab City Police Department has clear standards for officer conduct during a possible domestic dispute and our officers are trained to follow those standards and protocol," According to a September 2021 statement from the city. "At this time, the City of Moab is unaware of any breach of Police Department policy during this incident. However, the City will conduct a formal investigation and, based on the results, will take any next steps that may be appropriate."

Moab city response

When the report from the Price Police Department was released Wednesday, the city of Moab issued a statement.

"Based on the report’s findings, the City of Moab believes our officers showed kindness, respect and empathy in their handling of this incident. As the Moab City Police Department continues its daily mission to serve our community, efforts are underway to provide additional resources and tools to assist the in addressing domestic violence incidents," the statement said. "Plans are in place to add a trained domestic violence specialist to oversee incidents investigated by Moab officers. We also will implement added and ongoing training and testing to ensure that the officers understand policies and procedures."

The city added, "The City of Moab sends our sincere condolences to the Petito family. Our hearts go out to them as they continue to deal with the tragic loss of their daughter."

Read the full report:


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