Gabby Petito’s family files claim alleging police failed her

Lawsuit seeks $50m for not helping woman who went missing on US road trip with her boyfriend

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Gabby Petito’s family on Monday notified Utah officials of plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit claiming that police failed to recognise their daughter was in a life-threatening situation last year when investigating a fight between her and her boyfriend.

The fight happened weeks before authorities say the boyfriend killed her while the couple was on a cross-country van trip.

The notice of claim says police in the tourist town of Moab missed signs that Petito was the victim of domestic violence at the hands of Brian Laundrie on August 12, 2021.

The officers ultimately allowed the couple to leave after requiring them to spend a night apart.

Gabby Petito's mother Nichole Schmidt. AP Photo

Police body camera video from that day showing Petito visibly upset was widely viewed as the investigation unfolded and raised questions about whether a different police response could have prevented her death.

“If the officers had been properly trained and followed the law, Gabby would still be alive today,” lawyer James McConkie said.

Notices of claims are required before people can sue government entities and the family’s claim said that the lawsuit would seek $50 million in damages.

Moab officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment about 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 later killed himself in Florida after being named as the only person of interest in her death.

The search for Petito drew worldwide attention. It also brought scrutiny of authorities and media, both of which have been criticised for focusing more attention on missing white women than on women of colour.

This year, an independent investigation found that police in Moab made “several unintentional mistakes” when they came across Petito and Laundrie.

In the report, police said it was very likely that Petito “was a long-term victim of domestic violence, whether that be physically, mentally, and/or emotionally".

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

Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, spoke to AP about her daughter last week while announcing a $100,000 donation from the Gabby Petito Foundation to the National Domestic Violence Hotline to help others survive turbulent and violent relationships.

Ms Schmidt said last week that she still had many unanswered questions about what went wrong.

“Looking back, I didn’t really see any signs," she said. "I think the only two people that will ever know what happened in that relationship was Gabby and Brian.

"And we can guess and we can make assumptions but we don’t really know what happened.

“Most likely the scenario ended that way because something was happening for a while.”

Updated: August 09, 2022, 8:09 AM
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