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Gabby Petito’s family to file $50m wrongful death case against Utah police

Image of a woman with her hands on her hips and a police car in the background
In this image taken from police body-camera video, Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito talks to a police officer. Photograph: AP

The family of Gabby Petito announced plans to file a $50m wrongful death lawsuit against Utah police on Monday, claiming that officers in the small desert town of Moab, who stopped Petito and boyfriend Brian Laundrie last year, failed to recognize their daughter was in a domestic violence situation.

The notice of a forthcoming claim alleges that when officers stopped the couple on 12 August 2021, they did not recognize that Petito, 22, was in danger.

Body-cam film later showed a visibly upset Petito speaking to officers on the side of the road.

Instead of intervening, the officers allowed the couple to proceed on a cross-country van trip after requiring them to spend a night apart.

The fight between the couple happened weeks before authorities say Laundrie strangled her. Petito’s body was found on 19 September near Grand Teton national park in Wyoming.

Laundrie, 23, later killed himself in a Florida swamp after being named the sole person of interest in her disappearance. His body was found last October. A notebook contained a confession to her murder.

“If the officers had been properly trained and followed the law, Gabby would still be alive today,” attorney James McConkie said in a statement. At a press conference in Salt Lake City, McConkie said that “officers fail to recognize the serious danger that she was in, and failed to investigate fully and properly”.

He referred to “clear signs that were evident that morning that Gabby was a victim and that she was in serious need of immediate help”.

Appearing by video at a news conference to announce the claim, Petito’s mother, Nicole Schmidt, described watching the body-cam video as “very painful”.

An independent investigation earlier this year found that Moab police made “several unintentional mistakes” when they intercepted Petito and Laundrie. In a 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”.

Petito’s family have already sued Laundrie’s parents claiming they knew since about 28 August last year that Petito was dead because their son had told them.

Instead of telling Petito’s family, or responding to their pleas for help, the Laundrie family issued a statement saying “it is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is re-united with her family”.

A Florida judge is allowing that claim to proceed.

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