SALT LAKE CITY –
Gabby Petito’s family notified Utah officials Monday of plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit alleging police failed to acknowledge their daughter was in a life-threatening situation last year when officers investigated a fight. between her and her boyfriend. The fight occurred weeks before authorities said her boyfriend killed her while the couple was traveling in a pickup truck across the country.
The notice of claim contends that police in the resort town of Moab saw no signs that Petito was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of Brian Laundrie on August 12, 2021. Officers eventually allowed the couple to leave after asking them to they will spend the night besides.
Police body camera video, widely seen as the investigation unfolded last year, showed Petito, 22, visibly and raised questions about whether a different police response could have prevented his death. Appearing on video at a news conference to announce the claim, Petito’s mother, Nicole Schmidt, said “it’s very painful to watch.”
“I wanted to jump through the screen and rescue her,” Schmidt said.
Notices of claims are required before people can sue government entities and the family’s claim said the lawsuit will seek $50 million in damages. Moab officials have 60 days to respond before the family can file a lawsuit based on the claim.
The family’s attorney, James McConkie, told reporters in Salt Lake City that “officers failed to recognize the grave danger he was in and did not fully and adequately investigate.”
He added: “They didn’t have the training they needed to recognize the clear signs that became apparent that morning, that Gabby was a victim and in dire need of urgent help.”
Public workers, such as police officers, typically have immunity from lawsuits in many states, including Utah. Debate over that legal doctrine, known as “qualified immunity,” arose after the 2020 police shootings and has reached both Congress and the US Supreme Court.
Lawyers for the Petito family said they planned to argue that applying Utah’s governmental immunity law to wrongful death lawsuits is unconstitutional and an obstacle to accountability.
“The only effective way to correct these problems is to hold our institutions accountable for the failures, including law enforcement,” said another attorney for the Petito family, Brian Stewart.
After the notice of claim was filed, Moab city government spokeswoman Lisa Church declined to comment, saying city officials do not comment on pending litigation.
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, 23, later killed herself in Florida after being named the only person of interest in her death. Petito and Landrie were originally from Long Island, New York.
The search for Petito drew worldwide attention, prompting amateur sleuths to search social media for clues. It also drew scrutiny from authorities and the media, which have been criticized for focusing more attention on missing white women than on women of color.
Earlier this year, an independent investigation found that Moab police made “several unintentional errors” when they encountered Petito and Laundrie. In the report, police said Petito was most likely “a victim of long-term domestic violence, whether physical, mental and/or emotional.”
Laundrie killed himself in a Florida swamp, leaving behind a notebook that authorities say contained a confession.
In addition to filing the notice of claim, Schmidt recently announced a $100,000 donation from the Gabby Petito Foundation to partner with the National Domestic Violence Hotline to help others survive turbulent and violent relationships.
Schmidt told The Associated Press in an interview last week that he still has a lot of unanswered questions about what went wrong.
“Looking back, I really didn’t see any signs. I think the only two people who will ever know what happened in that relationship were 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 going on for a while.”