The parents of Gabby Petito have filed a notice of claim against Moab police in preparation for suing for $50 million, saying they did not do enough to prevent their daughter’s death.
The Salt Lake Tribune explained that a notice of claim precedes a lawsuit or settlement with a government agency.
Nicole Schmidt said that police allowed her daughter to leave with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, after officers had been called to investigate an argument between the couple.
Petito was reported missing in September 2021 after she and Laundrie had traveled across the country, living in a van.
Her body was found weeks later in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. A coroner had determined that Petito had been dead at least three weeks before her body was found and her death was ruled homicide by manual strangulation.
Laundrie was named a person of interest and was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Carlton Reserve in Florida, admitting in a notebook that he had killed Petito, NBC News reported.
Moab police spoke with Petito and Laundrie on Aug. 12, 2021, while they were in Utah. Police body camera footage showed an upset Petito. A report written by the officers said that Petito had cuts on her cheek and arm, but when officers asked about the injuries, Petito said she had hit Laundrie first and didn’t want to be apart from him.
Laundrie had told police that he had pushed Petito away to avoid her striking him.
Police determined that Petito was the primary aggressor and neither Petito nor Laundrie had wanted to press charges and told police that they loved each other, NBC News reported.
Police also told the couple to spend the night apart.
But a photo that has not been made public yet shows blood on Petito’s cheek and eye, indicating, according to the court filing, that her face was grabbed across her nose and mouth, NBC News reported.
A review of the case had shown that officers labeled it as a mental or emotional health “break” and not domestic violence.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported that, according to an independent review, police should have considered the 911 call more thoroughly and tried to find the person who reported that Laundrie had hit Petito outside a co-op.
The family’s attorney said that officers did not see that she was in danger and didn’t investigate what was occurring.
“They did not have the training that they needed to recognize the clear signs that were evident that morning, that Gabby was a victim and that she was in serious need of immediate help,” attorney James McConkie said, according to the AP.
While public officials typically have immunity due to the nature of their positions, the family’s lawyers say that the law is unconstitutional and leads to officers not having accountability.
“The only effective way to correct these problems is to hold our institutions accountable for failures, including law enforcement,” Brian Steward, another of the family’s attorneys, said.
An independent investigation alleged that Petito was likely “a long-term victim of domestic violence, whether that be physically, mentally, and/or emotionally” and that the police made “several unintentional mistakes” during their encounter.
But the police were not the only ones who may have missed signs of potential domestic abuse.
Schmidt said she didn’t see any signs of what was happening in the relationship between her daughter and Laundrie.
“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,” she told the AP. “Most likely the scenario ended that way because something was happening for a while.”
Petito’s family is also suing Laundrie’s parents, accusing them of hindering the search for their daughter and that they knew that their son had killed Petito, NBC News reported.
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