clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Report: Moab police made ‘unintentional mistakes’ during Gabby Petito call outside Arches

Officers also ‘showed kindness, respect and empathy’ during the call, the report reads

Newly released police body camera video provided by the Moab Police Department shows Gabby Petito talking to a police officer after the van she was riding in was pulled over near Arches National Park on Aug. 12, 2021. Petito and her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, whom she was traveling the country with, had been in a fight in Moab, according to witnesses.
Police body camera video provided by the Moab Police Department shows Gabby Petito talking to a police officer after the van she was riding in was pulled over near Arches National Park on Aug. 12, 2021. Moab police “made several unintentional mistakes,” when they responded to the dispute between Petito and her boyfriend, according to an outside agency’s review.
Moab Police Department

Moab police officers “made several unintentional mistakes,” when they responded to the Aug. 12 dispute involving Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie, stemming from their failure to cite Petito for domestic violence.

That’s according to an anticipated review of the Moab Police Department’s handling of the high profile incident that took place outside Arches National Park that was released Wednesday.

The independent, 102-page report was conducted by Capt. Brandon Ratcliffe of the Price City Police Department, after attorney Tanya Reeves filed a formal complaint.

In addition to their failure to cite Petito for domestic violence, officers also should have obtained a statement from the original 911 caller, who told dispatchers he saw a “gentleman slapping the girl ... they ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car, and they drove off.”

The report issues several recommendations to the department — officers should have additional training for domestic violence investigations and legal training so they understand state laws and statutes.

The department should also review its software, its process for incident reports, and overall policy. “There were a considerate number of details lacking from both officers’ reports,” Ratcliffe writes.

And, Ratcliffe says, both officers involved should be placed on probation, “or if they are still on probation, that probation be extended.”

“The City intends to implement the report’s recommendations,” a statement from Moab city officials reads.

Despite the mistakes, Ratcliffe says the officers “showed kindness, respect and empathy” during the call.

The department came under scrutiny for their handling of the incident after body-worn camera footage from responding officers Eric Pratt and Daniel Robbins was released and subsequently garnered millions of views as the missing persons case captivated the world.

Robbins had been on the job for about five months, and was in the final phase of his field training program, according to the report. Pratt had been guiding Robbins during the incident outside Arches, but when another call came out he handed it over to Robbins, who oversaw the case to its conclusion.

Petito was deemed the aggressor in the situation, but instead of pursuing charges, police called the incident a mental health crisis instead of a domestic dispute. They separated the two for the night, taking Laundrie to a hotel while Petito drove off with the couple’s van.

“Officers made a mistake by not reading the entire assault statute as well as misinterpreting the language in the statute,” the report states in reference to the decision to separate the couple without pursuing charges. “... The statements of all those involved, along with the evidence presented, provided probable cause for an arrest.”

Before making their final determination, officers should have also “obtained a statement from the 911 caller ... if it was possible.”

The two later reunited and left Moab together, passing through Salt Lake City on their way to Wyoming. On Sept. 19, Petito was found strangled to death on the outskirts of Grand Teton National Park. Laundrie’s body was later found in Florida after authorities say he died by suicide.

Whether Petito would be alive today had officers arrested her, or deemed Laundrie the aggressor, has been debated at length. In his report, Ratcliffe says “that is an impossible question to answer despite it being the answer many people want to know.”

“Nobody knows and nobody will ever know the answer to that question,” he writes.

Pratt told Ratcliffe it was clear Laundrie and Petito had a troubled relationship — but he didn’t think it was dangerous, and described it as “another unhealthy relationship.”

“I saw the dynamics of their relationship. … If there were all these red flags that he was going to murder Gabby I didn’t see those. I saw the same red flags I see every time I get called to a relationship issue,” he’s quoted in the report.

Robbins, meanwhile, was asked why he didn’t put the couple in touch with mental health professionals, after declaring the situation a “mental health crisis.”

“Calls were stacking up left and right and mistakes were made. It completely slipped my mind. I didn’t even think about it,” he said. The report states that Robbins and Pratt were the only on-duty patrol officers at the time of the incident, and that because Robbins was still in training, Pratt was required to accompany him on every call.

In the report, Pratt said he accepts responsibility for any wrongdoing on his part — “I am devastated about it. I cared that day and I still care.”

“I’m desperately (expletive) over that she got killed. I really am. I would have done anything to stop it if I would have known that was coming.”

Mentioned in passing in the review is Melissa Hulls, visitor and resource protection supervisor at Arches National Park, who also responded to the call and spent over an hour talking with Petito.

“I was probably more candid with her than I should’ve been,” Hulls told the Deseret News the day Petito’s body was found in Wyoming.

“I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life,” she said.

However because the report is focused on Moab Police Department’s handling of the incident, Hulls’ body-worn camera footage, which has not been made public, was not reviewed and she was not interviewed.