- Gabby Petito was killed during a cross-country road trip with her fiancé Brian Laundrie.
- Her parents have filed a lawsuit claiming police could have saved her life.
- The lawsuit also accused one officer of being “fundamentally biased,” saying he himself was an abuser.
Gabby Petito’s parents filed a lawsuit on Thursday in Utah accusing the Moab City Police Department of neglecting to save her life, claiming alleged abusive behavior of an officer who responded made him biased against her.
In the 35-page lawsuit, which was first announced in August, Petito’s parents, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt, accused one officer, Eric Pratt, of being “fundamentally biased in his approach to the investigation.
They claimed he chose to believe Gabby Petito’s abusive partner and fiancé, Brian Laundrie, ignoring evidence that Gabby was the victim and intentionally looking for loopholes to get around the requirements of Utah law and his duty to protect Gabby.”
Petito was killed on August 24, 2021, during a cross-country road trip with Laundrie. Investigators later found a confession letter he wrote before he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to the FBI. Her death prompted a nationwide search and garnered wide-ranging attention on social media.
On August 12, 2021, days before her death, the couple had an encounter with the police after a witness reported a potential domestic violence dispute, claiming Laundrie hit Petito. The interaction with the police was documented in officer body cam footage.
During the interaction with police, Petito said “to be honest, I definitely hit him first,” according to a report commissioned by the City of Moab. The report also found that the officers made “several unintentional mistakes,” and that it was “very likely” Petito was a “long-term victim of domestic violence.”
The police department — as well as the chief, the assistant chief, and Officers Eric Pratt and Daniel Robbins — were listed as defendants in the suit filed by Gabby Petito’s parents. In the lawsuit, Petito’s parents accused both officers that responded to the incident of failing to follow procedure by not fully investigating the domestic violence complaint and ignoring obvious signs that their daughter was in distress.
“The purpose of this lawsuit is to honor Gabby’s legacy by demanding accountability and working toward systemic changes to protect victims of domestic abuse and violence and prevent such tragedies in the future,” attorney James W. McConkie, who is representing Petito’s parents, told CNN in a statement.
The suit argues that Petito’s untimely death could have been avoided had the Moab Police Department hired and trained capable officers and had the police officers “competently and properly investigated Brian’s reported abuse.”
“We feel we need to bring justice because she could have been protected that day,” Schmidt, Petito’s mother, said at a Thursday news conference. “There are laws put in place to protect victims, and those laws were not followed, and we don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
The lawsuit cited a witness that claimed to know Pratt, who was a former police chief in a small Utah town at the time before moving to the Moab Police Department. She accused him of being abusive toward her, and that he had sexually assaulted her and threatened to kill her with a crowbar if she reported the abuse.
During the investigation into the police department and the officer’s handling of the incident, Pratt said he would have helped if he believed Petito was in danger.
“I’m desperately fucked over that she got killed. I really am,” Pratt said of Petito’s death. “I would have done anything to stop it if I would have known that was coming.”
The city has denied responsibility for Petito’s death.
“The death of Gabrielle Petito in Wyoming is a terrible tragedy, and we feel profound sympathy for the Petito and Schmidt families and the painful loss they have endured,” the city told Insider in a statement. “At the same time, it is clear that Moab City Police Department officers are not responsible for Gabrielle Petito’s eventual murder.”
The Moab City Police Department and representatives for Petito’s legal team did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.