(NewsNation) — The family of Gabby Petito filed a wrongful death lawsuit Monday against the Moab City Police Department related to the handling of an encounter between Petito and her then-fiancé, Brian Laundrie while in Utah in August 2021. The family is seeking $50 million in damages.
Attorneys representing Petito’s family allege that Petito would still be alive had officers been properly trained to handle domestic violence situations.
“Moab City Police Department has been plagued by high turnover, lack of leadership and dangerous mismanagement for years,” said James McConkie, one of the attorneys representing the Petito family.
McConkie also said the Moab Police Department “neglected its duty to provide the training and resources its officers need to do their job,” calling it an “institutional failure.”
In January, an independent law enforcement agency found Moab officers made several “unintentional mistakes” when responding to a 911 call about domestic violence involving Petito and Laundrie.
“There were mistakes made in how this case was handled,” the person conducting the review said. “If this case was handled flawlessly, would it have changed anything? Nobody knows.”
The city of Moab on Wednesday released a statement and a review of the Aug. 12, 2021 incident, which took place shortly before Petito disappeared. It says the mistakes “stemmed from the fact that officers failed to cite Ms. Petito for domestic violence.”
The review also said, “Just because Gabby was determined to be the predominant aggressor as it related to this incident, doesn’t mean she was the long-term predominant aggressor in this relationship.”
During the 911 call, a man told the Grand County Sheriff’s Office that he saw a man slap a woman while walking through the town and proceeded to hit her before the two got in their van and drove off.
“We drove by and the gentleman was slapping the girl,” he said. “They ran up and down the sidewalk, he proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car, and they drove off.”
Later in the day, Moab City police in Utah responded to reports of an alleged physical interaction between Petito and Laundrie. Hourlong body camera footage from the investigation shows officers responding to the 911 call with Petito crying “uncontrollably,” saying the pair had been having “little arguments” that day. Authorities said Laundrie told officers the couple had been traveling for four to five months, which “created emotional strain between them and increased the number of arguments.”
On Sept. 30, bodycam video from a different angle was released that shows Petito telling an officer that Laundrie grabbed her jaw, but she hit him “a couple times” first.
Petito and Laundrie reportedly separated for the night, with Petito keeping the van and Laundrie getting lodging assistance from police.
The bodycam footage is from Aug. 12. Sometime around the end of that month, Gabby Petito was killed. Her remains were found in Wyoming on Sept. 19.
Brian Steward, one of the lead attorneys in this case, said they agree with the finding and the Moab officers “failed in their duty to protect Gabby.”
“Due to lack of training and access to critical domestic violence resources, the officers failed to properly investigate the reported domestic assault and, thus failed to fully appreciate or respond to Gabby’s life-threatening situation,” Steward said in a news release.
He continued: “The Petito family believes that is important as a society to hold our governmental institutions to account for such failures and to work toward changes to protect victims and domestic abuse and violence and prevent such tragedies in the future.”