Gabby Petito’s parents can’t get criminal justice for their daughter. The man who admitted to murdering their daughter killed himself just weeks after Petito’s body was found. But, that hasn’t stopped Petito’s parents from seeking justice.
Petito’s parents recently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Utah police for $50 million.
Why are Petito’s parents seeking justice in civil court, and do they have a case?
The Gabby Petito Criminal Case
In early September 2021, Gabby Petito, became national news when she went missing while on a months-long cross-country road trip with her fiance, Brian Laundrie. Laundrie returned to their home state of Florida without Petito and claimed he didn’t know where she was.
A few weeks later, Petito’s body was found at Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. Investigators said she was dead for at least three weeks and that her cause of death was homicide by manual strangulation.
Police had a suspect — Petito’s fiance, Brian Laundrie — but he was nowhere to be found.
After a lengthy search, Laundrie’s body was finally found in October 2021. Laundrie had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Florida’s Carlton Reserve. Near his body were journals in which he wrote that he had killed Petito.
Petito’s parents had proof Laundrie killed their daugher, but they had no way to seek justice in criminal courts since Laundrie had died.
Now, they are fighting for justice in civil court.
Related: What’s the Difference Between a Civil and Criminal Case?
The Gabby Petito Civil Case Against Utah Police
On August 8, 2022, Petito’s family sued for wrongful death. They filed a $50 million civil lawsuit against Utah police.
According to NBC News, the notice of intent was filed against Moab City Police Department, its then-Chief Bret Edge, ex–Assistant Chief Braydon Palmer, and Officers Eric Pratt and Daniel Robbins.
The lawsuit says Utah police failed to properly investigate a domestic violence incident involving Petito and Laundrie on August 12, 2021, about a month before Petito went missing.
On that day, police received a call about a domestic disturbance involving two people in a van. The caller said they saw “the gentleman slapping the girl” before the couple left in the van. Police found the van and pulled it over after an officer saw the vehicle cross the double yellow line and strike a curb. Body cam footage shows the police encounter.
Petito’s family believes police mishandled the situation and could have saved their daughter’s life if they had acted differently.
Related: Examples of Wrongful Death Cases Worth Fighting For
Why The $50 Million Civil Suit Against Utah Police?
The wrongful death lawsuit alleges that police didn’t have the proper training and ability to classify the incident involving Petito and Laundrie, and if they had, they would have seen that Petito was in danger.
In body cam footage, Petito is visibly distraught. She told police she slapped Laundrie and then he grabbed her face. Yet, police failed to ask Laundrie about a scratch on Petito’s cheek, and no statement was taken from the caller who reportedly saw Laundrie strike Petito.
Lawyers representing Petito’s family also say they have a photo that hasn’t been released to the public that shows a close-up of Petitor’s face where “blood is smeared on her cheek and left eye.”
The family believes the evidence should have been enough for police to classify the incident as a domestic violence situation and recognize that Petito was in danger.
“The officers did not question Brian about the inconsistencies in his version of events. Instead, they determined that Gabby was the primary aggressor and that Brian was a potential victim of domestic violence,” the lawsuit says. Laundrie also told police he took Petito’s phone because he didn’t have one, and then he can be seen taking out his phone later while talking to police.
At the time, neither Petito nor Laundrie said they wanted to press charges. No charges were filed, and the police told the couple to separate for the night. Police classified the case as disorderly conduct, not domestic abuse.
Related: Dealing With the Media During a High-Profile Case: What to Expect
The Wrong Classification
Classifying the case as disorderly conduct instead of domestic abuse is the primary reason for the Petito family lawsuit.
If the incident had been categorized as domestic violence, it would have required officers to issue a citation or make an arrest. Police would have had to send their report to prosecutors. But, this didn’t happen. An officer wrote in a report, it appeared the incident was “more accurately categorized as a mental/emotional health ‘break’ than a domestic assault.”
The Petitos aren’t alone in their opinion that the case was handled improperly. A report conducted by Capt. Brandon Ratcliffe of the Price City Police Department in Utah found that the officers misclassified the incident, according to NBC News.
It also seems that officers were unsure of what to do that day. One of the officers called Assistant Chief Palmer for assistance during the stop. The officer was told to read the statute carefully and make a decision.
Now, the court will decide whether or not Utah police are partially at fault for what happened to Petito. James McConkie, one of the attorneys retained in the case said, “Failure to follow the law can have deadly consequence, as it did in this case.”
(The Petitos have another pending civil case against Laundrie’s parents. It alleges that the Laundries hindered the police investigation into Petito’s disappearance.)
Related: Can Brian Laundrie’s Parents Get Into Legal Trouble in the Gabby Petito Case?
How to Seek Justice for a Love One
Petito’s parents are exercising their right to fight for justice for their daughter.
If you believe someone you love has experienced death or injury due to the negligence of another party, talk to a wrongful death attorney today. Explore your options for seeking justice. Talk to TJ Grimaldi about your case to see what you can do. Schedule your consultation or call 813-226-1023 today.