Gabby Petito case: Moab PD accused of profiteering, raking in THOUSANDS from footage
Reports say police 'illegally' charged media for bodycam footage of August 12 stop of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie. City says it will refund fees
The Moab Police Department has once again found itself in the headlines in relation to the Gabby Petito case. On October 19, it was revealed the department "illegally" profited from selling the bodycam footage of the August 12 stop of Petito and Brian Laundrie to media organizations, raking in thousands of dollars for something that should have essentially been free. Acknowledging the error, city spokeswoman Lisa Church said, "It’s going to be made right."
The small town of Utah found itself at the center of the case in September after the city eventually released footage of the stop made by officers just outside the Arches National Park. In late September, Chief Bret Edge went on leave after facing massive criticism for delaying the release of the footage. Since its release, it has provided investigators with several key clues to the fate of Petito, as she could be heard saying Laundrie "scratched" her face.
Now, months after that fateful stop and a grim end to the case, the department finds itself in hot water yet again. That's because it reportedly charged media organizations a massive fee to use the footage, which is in violation of Utah's laws. The amount collected, in the thousands, is reportedly "three times more than what the department had expected to take in for the entire fiscal year" for fees.
How much did the Moab PD make?
The Salt Lake Tribune noted that the department made $2,940 by selling the footage to around 30 entities, most of which were news organizations. That amounts to around $98 per entity, according to the open records request filed by the Tribune. That's almost triple the $1,000 the city expected to make from records fees in 2021, which it also budgeted for in 2022. The Tribune noted that this was a direct violation of state law, where departments could only charge for the "actual cost of providing a record."
According to the law, government agencies may charge a "reasonable fee", but as Church noted, "once that document is created, everybody else should not have been charged." However, even that $98 appears to be extremely high, and "outside the city’s normal fee schedule." Chruch went on to note that the department did release a second clip days later, at no charge. However, she could offer no explanation for why the first clip cost so much, especially since it is usually provided to media organizations for free.
On September 16, The Tribune reached out to the Moab PD for the clip, by which time 23 other organizations had already requested access. At the time, a representative for the city declined the Tribune's request for a fee waiver, saying the waiver was "not applicable." In response to the story, Church promised the error would be corrected. "We’ll get it figured out and get the refunds processed," she said. Reportedly, the money will be returned as early as next week.
The footage has led to an investigation into the department's handling of the stop, which at the time was characterized as a "mental health crisis." Just over a month later, Petito's body was found at Teton National Park, which began a massive month-long hunt for Laundrie.