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Gabby Petito's Family Plans To File $50M Lawsuit Against Police: Court

Patch 8/8/2022 Lisa Finn, Peggy Spellman Hoey
The notice of claim was filed Friday and states that failure to act by police might have saved Gabby Petito's life. © Moab City Police, Nichole Schmidt The notice of claim was filed Friday and states that failure to act by police might have saved Gabby Petito's life.

BLUE POINT, NY — Gabby Petito's family announced plans Monday to file a $50 million lawsuit against the Moab Police Department, stating missteps by officers — and their failure to notice signs of domestic violence — during a traffic stop in Utah just weeks before she was killed by her fiancé, could have cost the Blue Point native her life.

A widely viewed police body cam video of that stop on August 12, 2021 showed Petito visibly upset and crying.

Brian Laundrie, with whom she was on a cross-country road trip — Laundrie was smiling and laughing with officers in the video —was ordered to spend the night in motel so that the two could separate for the night, to "relax, breathe. . .I understand that this can feel like a nightmare but you're coming out as the golden flower on top of it. . . I want you guys to stay away from each other. For both of your guys' sake. . . I just want everybody to breathe," the officer at the scene told Petito.

According to the notice of claim, filed Friday by the law firm Parker & McConkie, and attorneys Brian Stewart and Steve Jensen, the Moab Police Department did not fully address a 911 caller who reported seeing Laundrie hit Petito outside a Utah restaurant, the Moonflower Community Cooperative; police also did not act on the fact that she had cuts on her face and that Laundrie had grabbed her face in a fight, the legal document states.

A close-up photo of Petito's face, not yet released to the public, shows blood smeared on her cheek and left eye, the notice of claim added.

Petito, a native Blue Pointer, disappeared in August last year while on a cross-country trip with Laundrie, her fiancé, who returned to his parents' home in Florida in her van on Sept. 1. After a frantic interstate search, involving multiple law enforcement agencies, she was found strangled to death near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming on Sept. 19 — eight days after Schmidt filed a missing person report with police in her hometown of Suffolk County.

At a press conference announcing the suit, Petito's mother Nichole Schmidt and her husband Jim, and her father Joseph Petito and his wife Tara, appeared via video. The notice of claim, the first step in filing a lawsuit against the police department, was filed on Friday against the Moab Police Department and against department employees Chief Bret Edge, Assistant Chief Braydon Palmer, Officer Eric Pratt, and Officer Daniel Robbins.

According to the notice of claim, Laundrie "murdered Gabby Petito by strangling her and savagely inflicting blunt force trauma to her head."

The notice of claim also said that police did not question Laundrie about "inconsistencies" in his version of events but instead, "determined Gabby was the primary aggressor."

In a later independent review of the stop, it was determined that Moab Police "officers made several mistakes and could not rule out that Gabby's murder might have been prevented in officers had handled the situation properly," the notice of claim states.

Sobbing during the press event, Petito's mother Schmidt, who has spent months against domestic violence, and creating the Gabby Petito Foundation, said, "We just want to let people know we're going to do whatever we can. That's why we're here."

Schmidt told others who might be facing domestic violence to reach out to someone they trust.

When she watched the video of her daughter during the police stop, Schmidt said: "Watching it is very painful. I wanted to jump in the screen and rescue her."

Added her father, explaining how his daughter legacy can help others.: "Use her story. Learn from it. Her legacy is to help people that don't see a way out. . Use her as the light that she was to us. You're worth it."

The Moab Police Department did not immediately return a request for comment.

In May, attorneys for Gabby Petito's mother, Schmidt, filed a new wrongful death lawsuit in Florida against the curator of the estate for Laundrie, according to reports.

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