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Gabby Petito’s family files claim police let her down


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“I wanted to jump across the screen and save her.”

In this still from police body camera video provided by the Moab Police Department, Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito talks to a police officer after police stopped the van she was traveling in with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, near the entrance to Arches National Park on August 12, 2021. The Moab Police Department via AP, File

SALT LAKE CITY, AP — The family of Gabby Petito notified Utah officials on Monday of their intention to file a wrongful death lawsuit alleging police failed to acknowledge their daughter was in a life-threatening situation. in danger last year when officers investigated a fight between her and her boyfriend. The scuffle took place weeks before authorities said the boyfriend killed her while the couple were on a cross-country van trip.

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The Notice of Claim claims that police in the resort town of Moab missed signs that Petito was the victim of domestic violence at the hands of Brian Laundrie on August 12, 2021. Officers eventually allowed the couple to leave after telling them asked to spend one night. a part.

Police body camera video widely viewed during the inquest last year showed Petito, 22, visibly and raised questions about whether a different police response might have prevented his death. Appearing via video at a press conference to announce the claim, Petito’s mother, Nicole Schmidt, said “watching him is very painful”.

“I wanted to jump across the screen and save her,” Schmidt said.

Notices of claim are needed before people can sue government entities and the family’s claim says the lawsuit will seek $50 million in damages. Moab officials have 60 days to respond before the family can take legal action based on the claim.

Family attorney James McConkie told reporters in Salt Lake City that “officers failed to recognize the grave danger she was in and failed to conduct a full and proper investigation.

He added: “They didn’t have the training they needed to recognize the clear signs that were evident that morning that Gabby was a victim and in serious need of immediate help.”

Public workers such as police officers generally enjoy immunity from prosecution in many states, including Utah. Debate over this legal doctrine, known as “qualified immunity,” emerged after police shootings in 2020 and reached both Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Attorneys for the Petito family said they plan to argue that the application of Utah’s governmental immunity law to wrongful death claims is unconstitutional and a bar to liability.

“The only effective way to correct these problems is to hold our institutions accountable for failures, including law enforcement,” said another Petito family lawyer, Brian Stewart.

Moab officials did not immediately respond to phone and email messages Monday seeking comment on the claim.

Petito was reported missing a month after that traffic stop and her strangled body was discovered on September 19 on the edge of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

Laundrie, 23, later killed herself in Florida after being named the only person interested in her death. Petito and Landrie were from Long Island, New York.

Petito’s search has captured worldwide attention, prompting amateur sleuths to scour social media for clues. It has also drawn scrutiny from authorities and the news media, both of which have been criticized for giving more attention to missing white women than to women of color.

Earlier this year, an independent investigation found that Moab police made “several unintentional errors” in meeting with Petito and Laundrie. In the report, police said it was very likely that Petito “was a long-term victim of domestic violence, whether physically, mentally and/or emotionally.”

Laundrie killed himself in a Florida swamp, leaving behind a notebook that authorities said contained a confession.

In addition to filing the Notice of Claim, Schmidt announced a $100,000 donation from the Gabby Petito Foundation to partner with the National Domestic Violence Hotline to help others survive turbulent and abusive relationships.

Schmidt told The Associated Press in an interview last week that she still had many unanswered questions about what was wrong.

“Looking back, I didn’t really see any signs. I think the only two people who will ever know what happened in that relationship were Gabby and Brian. And we can guess and we can guess, but we don’t really know what happened,” she added. “Most likely the storyline ended this way because something had been going on for a while.”



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