Gabby Petito’s family files wrongful death suit against Utah police
Gabby Petito’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Utah police, claiming they “bungled” a traffic stop with the travel blogger and her fiancé Brian Laundrie — and alleging that one officer involved previously threatened to kill his mistress with a crowbar.
The scathing claims, detailed in a 35-page complaint filed Thursday, allege that Moab Police Department’s “sloppy” investigation left Petito, 22, vulnerable in the hands of Laundrie, who then allegedly strangled her in her sleep.
Petito and Laundrie, 23, were traveling cross-country in a van on Aug. 12, 2021 when officers pulled them over near Arches National Park following an alleged “domestic incident” earlier that day.
Previously released bodycam footage of the traffic stop shows one officer concluding that Petito, who was sobbing, was the “primary aggressor,” while another tells Laundrie that was a “victim of domestic assault.”
The controversial encounter took place roughly two weeks before Laundrie murdered Petito and abandoned her body on a campground in Wyoming.
The lawsuit, first obtained by The US Sun, includes several claims about Eric Pratt, the senior law enforcement officer involved in the traffic stop. Pratt, who was reportedly promoted to detective earlier this year, was previously police chief in Salina, Utah.
“During his time as police chief in Salina, Pratt carried on several extra-marital affairs in the small town,” the Petito family’s attorneys allege in the suit.
One of the supposed mistresses, listed as “Witness 1” in the complaint, claimed that Pratt was a lazy officer who regularly declined to follow through on investigations in order to avoid work. His excuse was often “It’s too much paperwork.”
The woman also stated that Pratt used his position on the force to manipulate her, and threatened her after their fling ended in 2017.
“Pratt pulled Witness 1 over in her car, with her 5-year-old daughter in the back seat,” the complaint reads. “Pratt credibly and clearly threatened her stating, ‘If any of this gets out, I will kill you with a crowbar.’”
On a different occasion, the complaint claims that Witness 1 said that Pratt allegedly told her “If this had been a week ago, I would have been digging a grave and you would have been in it.”
According to The US Sun, there is no official documentation of these incidents.
The suit goes on to allege that Pratt, who admitted on the “Books In Heinessight” podcast that he was “disillusioned” with police work and often found “loopholes” after stepping down as Salina police chief in July 2017, should never have been rehired by the Moab Police Department.
“Pratt’s dangerous approach is evident throughout his interaction with Gabby and Brian as he manipulates the invest intentionally looking for loopholes to get around the requirements of Utah law and his duty to protect Gabby,” the complaint says.
“Upon information and belief, Officer Pratt is currently the subject of an internal affairs investigation for professional and sexual misconduct involving sex with another Moab Police Department officer.”
Although the Moab Police Department declined to comment on the allegations, the office released a statement denying their officers’ complicity in 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 statement read. “At the same time, it is clear that Moab City Police Department officers are not responsible for Gabrielle Petito’s eventual murder.
“Ms. Petito is believed to have died in Wyoming in late August 2021, more than two weeks after she and Brian Laundrie visited Moab and interacted with Moab City Police. At that time, our officers acted with kindness, respect, and empathy toward Ms. Petito.
“The attorneys for the Petito family seem to suggest that somehow our officers could see into the future based on this single interaction. In truth, on Aug. 12, no one could have predicted the tragedy that would occur weeks later and hundreds of miles away, and the City of Moab will ardently defend against this lawsuit.”
Along with Eric Pratt, named defendants include Officer Daniel Robbins, former Assistant Chief Braydon Palmer, and former Police Chief Brett Edge.
Pratt was unable to be reached Thursday.
Moab Police declined to make any of the officers available for interviews. They didn’t immediately respond to request for comment on whether Pratt was under investigation.
The lawsuit also references an unreleased photo taken by Petito before the Moab traffic stop.
“Brian and Gabby had been fighting much of the day, which eventually led to Brian physically and publicly assaulting Gabby outside the Moonflower Community Cooperative,” the complaint alleges. “At some point prior to their interaction with Moab police officers, Brian grabbed Gabby by the face so forcefully that he cut her cheek and drew blood.
“Gabby took a photograph of her injury, which shows blood across her nose and left eye. Gabby pointed out the injury to Officer Pratt, but he ignored her and did nothing more to investigate or document the injury.”
Officers reportedly separated the couple for one night and offered them relationship advice. Petito’s parents reportedly believed the situation was being handled and, according to the suit, “discontinued their efforts to intervene.”
The Petitos’ lawsuit, filed by Salt Lake City law firm Parker & McConkie, comes several months after an independent review of the officers’ behavior found “unintentional mistakes,” including not getting a statement from the original 911 caller and failing to make an arrest.
The January 2022 report recommended amendments to Moab police practices and training protocol, which included adding a trained domestic violence specialist to the team.
Gabby Petito’s parents are expected to comment on the lawsuit, including the allegations against Pratt, at a press conference in Utah on Thursday.
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