Gabby Petito's family files wrongful death suit against Moab Police Department over 'sloppy' investigation

The lawsuit makes several allegations against senior officer Eric Pratt, who was involved in the infamous traffic stop of the couple

Gabby Petito's family files wrongful death suit against Moab Police Department over 'sloppy' investigation
The family alleges that incompetent officers bungled Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie's traffic stop (YouTube/FOX 13 Tampa Bay)
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MOAB, UTAH: Family members of Gabby Petito, whose boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, admitted to killing her last year have filed a wrongful death suit against the Moab Police Department, alleging their negligence led to her death weeks later. Petito and her boyfriend were stopped by police officers in Moab, Utah, last summer on August 12, but were ultimately not cited for domestic violence amid signs of distress and their own statements about physical conflict.

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The Moab Police Department is accused of 'sloppy' investigation in a detailed 35-page complaint filed on Thursday, November 3. The family blamed the incompetent officers present on the scene for their negligence and failure to take proper measures which left Petito, 22, vulnerable in the hands of Laundrie, who allegedly strangled her in her sleep.

The bodycam footage of the traffic stop which was released earlier showed one of the officers concluding that Petito, who was sobbing at the time, to be the “primary aggressor,” while her boyfriend was thought to be a “victim of domestic assault.” Petito's body was later found on the edge of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming after being strangled. Laundrie was the only person ever identified by law enforcement as a person of interest and was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after returning alone to his parent's home in Florida.

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The lawsuit which was obtained by The Sun, includes several allegations against a senior law enforcement officer involved in the traffic stop, Eric Pratt. 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.

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Pratt was described as a lazy officer who regularly declined to follow through on investigations in order to avoid work by one of his supposed mistresses, listed as “Witness 1” in the complaint. His excuse was often “It’s too much paperwork.” The woman also alleged that Pratt used his position to control 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.’”

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The complaint claims that Witness 1 said Pratt allegedly told her on a different occasion, “If this had been a week ago, I would have been digging a grave and you would have been in it.” There is no official documentation of these incidents, according to The Sun. 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.

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“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.” 

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Although the police department declined to comment on the allegations, they denied their officers' involvement in the murder case in a statement. “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." 

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“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 statement continued. “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.”

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Named defendants include officer Daniel Robbins, former assistant chief Braydon Palmer and former police chief Brett Edge along with Pratt. 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.”

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