And now an outside investigation into the encounter is issuing several recommendations on how to fix those mistakes.
The traffic stop came on August 12, 2021 after a 911 caller reported that Laundrie was seen slapping Petito in the face before the couple got into their van and began to drive away.
Video from the traffic stop, which has been heavily viewed and scrutinized online in the wake of Petito’s tragic murder, shows Moab City Police Department officers separating the couple while a teary Petito tells the police that she was the one who was hitting Laundrie.
But in addition to the 911 caller who reportedly witnessed Laundrie hitting Petito, Laundrie himself told officers that he had pushed Petito, and Petito reported that Laundrie had grabbed her face after officers noticed marks on both her arm and her face.
Despite the conflicting stories, the eyewitness account from the 911 caller, and the injuries on Petito, officers determined that she was the primary aggressor and that Laundrie was the victim. And despite a Utah law requiring an arrest or citation to be made in a domestic violence case, neither Petito nor Laundrie was charged and officers ultimately categorized the call as “disorderly conduct” and a “mental/emotional health break.”
Officers separated Petito and Laundrie for the night, taking Laundrie to a motel and Petito staying in the couple’s van.
The outside investigation into the traffic stop, conducted by a captain with the Price Police Department from nearby Price, Utah, found that officers responding to the traffic stop made “several unintentional mistakes” during the encounter, including not enforcing the law by making an arrest during a domestic violence incident.
The report also states that the incident should have been properly categorized as a domestic violence situation and followed up on by officers.
It goes on to state, however, that these mistakes were unintentional:
“The officers did not know what they were doing was wrong at the time and did not make the decision to benefit themselves in any way. They both believed at the time they were making the right decision based on the totality of the circumstances that were presented.”
The report issued several recommendations based on the officers’ handling of the traffic stop, including placing both officers involved, Eric Pratt and Daniel Robbins, on probation.
The investigator also recommends that Robbins, who was undergoing field training with Pratt at the time of the traffic stop, have his training reviewed and undergo additional training time if necessary. And in addition, it’s recommended that both officers undergo training in both report writing and domestic violence investigation, as well as legal training to ensure that they understand the laws of the state of Utah.
Aside from the recommendations for the two officers, the report also recommends a review of the department’s report approval process, as well as the implementation of a policy requiring officers to take pictures of all injuries, regardless of whether they belong to a suspect or a victim.
The report also reveals the mental toll that their involvement in the case has had on the officers, with Pratt telling the investigator:
“I’m desperately fucked over that she got killed. I really am. I would have done anything to stop it if I would have known that was coming.”
Moab Officer Pratt: "I’m desperately fu**** over that she got killed. I really am. I would have done anything to stop it if I would have known that was coming.”
In addressing the report, a city official said that the police department would be implementing all of the report’s recommendations, as well as adding a domestic violence specialist to oversee incidents investigated by the police department.
As of right now, the Petito family has not commented on the report.
Obviously we’ll never know whether Gabby’s death could have (or would have) been prevented if the traffic stop had been handled differently. And ultimately, the only person of interest who’s been publicly named in her death is dead, after Laundrie’s body was found by police in Florida back in October after an extensive manhunt that at one time involved Dog the Bounty Hunter.
But if the recommendations help officers to better handle domestic violence situations in the future, they could very well help prevent future tragedies like this too.