Gabby Petito’s parents officially filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Moab Police Department, alleging their negligent policing resulted in her death.
The explosives lawsuit alleged Moab police failed to intervene appropriately when they stopped Petito and Brian Laundrie following reports of domestic violence between the couple.
The lawsuit, obtained by The Sun, alleged that responding officer Eric Pratt had an admitted history of responding to cases that he had intentionally found “loopholes” because he did not want to complete the necessary paperwork needed to properly process cases incidents would be required.
It also claimed Pratt had a history of violent domestic abuse herself, citing an ex-lover who claimed he threatened to kill her with a crowbar.
The Moab Police Department denied the allegations in a statement to , saying the Petito family had suggested their officers “could see into the future based on a single interaction”.
The department did not comment on the allegations about Pratt’s story.
Plans for the lawsuit were first announced in August. The Petito family is seeking $50 million in damages.
Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito. The lawsuit was filed by Petito’s family and seeks $50 million in damages
The lawsuit also alleges that responding officer Eric Pratt had an admitted history of evading police duty to avoid the paperwork
Gabby Petito’s parents announced Thursday the filing of their $50 million lawsuit against the Moab Police Department
Gabby Petito’s mother Nichole Schmidt during a news conference announcing the lawsuit on Thursday
At a press conference announcing the lawsuit Thursday, Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, said the Moab Police Department failed to enforce laws introduced to avoid the very situation that led to her daughter’s death.
“There are laws to protect victims and those laws have not been followed. And we don’t want that to happen to anyone,” she said through tears.
The lawsuit says officers “failed to recognize the obvious signs of abuse” during the August 2021 traffic stop in Moab.
Had police done their due diligence, the lawsuit said, “they would have known that Gabby was a victim of intimate partner violence and needed immediate protection.”
Passers-by had called 9-11 to report that they had seen Laundrie “hit” and “slapped” Petito on the sidewalk outside a restaurant. Police then stopped the couple after seeing their van driving erratically out of town.
When he interviewed the couple, Petito appeared in a state of panic, crying and hyperventilating the whole time, while Laundrie smiled brightly as he gave conflicting accounts of the argument they had.
No charges were brought and officers eventually decided that Petito was the “main attacker” in the fight and the pair were separated for the night.
Laundrie strangled Petito two weeks later in Wyoming.
Gabby Petito during the Moab police stop. The lawsuit alleges she has shown clear signs of being a victim of domestic violence
Laundrie was all smiles during the police stop but gave conflicting accounts of the fight he and Gabby had
The lawsuit alleged that responding officers overlooked obvious signs that Laundrie abused Petito, including evidence of “the violence of Brian’s assault” that led to the stoppage.
“The photo shows Gabby’s face has been grabbed over her nose and mouth, potentially restricting her airway,” the suit said.
It also points out that Petito displayed “classic characteristics of an abused partner” as he answered officers’ questions during the stop.
‘[Gabby was] trying to take the blame for the fight because she hit Brian first and didn’t want to be separated from him,” the suit said. “Whether for lack of training or refusal to follow their training, officials have not pressed further.”
The couple had been traveling together on an overland trip that began on July 2 when they left New York. Petito was reported missing on September 11
The lawsuit also alleged that responding officers were woefully ill-informed about the laws they were enforcing.
“Officer Pratt has — erroneously — ruled that Utah law recognizes assault only when the offender intended to cause assault,” the lawsuit said, referring to Pratt telling the couple he needed to arrest Petito, because she was classified as an attacker.
“Because of this incomplete and incorrect understanding of the law, Officer Pratt questioned Gabby if she intended to physically harm Brian when she hit him. Gabby said no.’
The lawsuit said officers eventually decided not to hold Petito and simply ordered the couple to be separated for the night, noting that Pratt said it was “not the officer’s responsibility” if the couple would get back together later.
The suit found Petito’s parents on the phone to her during traffic stops, asking her to leave Laundrie and come home, but upon realizing the police were involved, they agreed she was in safe hands, and hung up.
“When they learned the police were involved, they accepted Gabby’s assurances that she should continue on her journey,” the suit reads.
The lawsuit said Petito was “brutally murdered” days later due to the department’s negligence.
Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie. The couple tried to become social media stars, but Brian murdered Gabby instead
Petito’s remains were found on September 19, 2021, and she died exactly one year ago today
The lawsuit further alleges that Office Pratt has evaded police duties in the past because he did not like the job that involved doing the job properly.
Pratt previously served as the police chief in Salina, Utah, but resigned in 2017 because he was disillusioned with the job. The suit points out that he admitted on a podcast that he regularly looked for “loopholes” to work his way out of cases to avoid work.
“As an officer who described himself as ‘disillusioned’ with policing and admitted to having found ‘loopholes’ to circumvent the application of the law, Officer Pratt should never have been reinstated as an officer with the Moab Police Department,” it said it in suit.
“Pratt’s dangerous approach is evident during his interactions with Gabby and Brian as he manipulates the investment and deliberately seeks loopholes to circumvent the requirements of Utah law and his duty to protect Gabby.”
Gabby Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, holds up a photo of her daughter in September 2021
Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito with the van they drove across the country in together
The lawsuit also alleged that one of Pratt’s extramarital lovers — of whom he had many, according to the lawsuit — said Pratt regularly spoke about screwing up police work to avoid the paperwork.
The ex-lover regularly quoted Pratt as saying, “It’s too much paperwork” and “There’s no way I’m doing all the paperwork,” the lawsuit states.
The same woman also said that Pratt threatened her life on numerous occasions.
“Pratt pulled Witness 1 into her car with her 5-year-old daughter in the back seat,” the suit claimed. “Pratt threatened her credibly and clearly, saying, ‘If any of this comes out, I’m going to kill you with a crowbar.’
The suit also said Pratt once told her, “If that had been a week ago, I would have dug a grave and you would have been in it.”
Officer Eric Pratt is pictured second from right. The Petito family claimed he had a history of domestic violence
The Moab Police Department released a statement in response to the lawsuit’s allegations.
“The death of Gabrielle Petito in Wyoming is a terrible tragedy and we extend our deepest sympathy to the Petito and Schmidt families and the grievous loss they have suffered. At the same time, it is clear that Moab City Police Department officials are not responsible for the possible murder of Gabrielle Petito.’
‘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 the Moab City Police Department. At the time, our officers acted with kindness, respect and empathy towards Ms. Petito.’
“The Petito family’s attorneys appear to suspect that this single interaction may somehow allow our officers to see into the future. In truth, on August 12 no one could have foreseen the tragedy that would unfold weeks later and hundreds of miles away, and the city of Moab will passionately defend this lawsuit.”