SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (KSTU) — Attorneys for the family of Gabby Petito announced Monday that they intend to file a $50 million lawsuit against the Moab City Police Department, claiming that if its officers had been properly trained, their daughter would still be alive.
Petito's body was found in Wyoming in September 2021, weeks after she and her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, had interacted with Moab police officers while traveling across the country.
On Aug. 12, police had stopped the couple's van on U.S. Highway 191 near the entrance to Arches National Park after receiving a report of a man, identified as Laundrie, hitting a woman. However, during the stop, officers instead determined that Petito was the aggressor and ordered the couple to separate for the night.
In police bodycam video, Petito can be seen crying while in the front seat of the couple's van.
“Watching it is very painful. I wanted to jump through the screen and rescue her," said Nichole Schmidt, Petito's mother, at the press conference announcing the lawsuit.
According to the police report, officers believed the incident was better described "more accurately as a mental/emotional health ‘break’ than a domestic assault." Petito stayed in the van that evening and Laundrie stayed in a hotel.
Petito’s body was discovered on Sept. 19 in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. An autopsy later revealed her cause of death to be strangulation. Before returning to Florida and committing suicide, Laundrie claimed responsibility for her death.
“We believe that these officers were negligent and their negligence contributed to the cause of Gabby’s death,” said attorney Brian Stewart.
On top of the bodycam video, the family's attorneys said more proof of police negligence exists. They said the officers failed to recognize the danger Petito was in and refused to investigate, which led to the decision to file the lawsuit.
“This is not to punish individual officers, but is to honor the efforts of dedicated police officers. And while it is tough to do by demanding that changes needed to help them do their job better will be accomplished. We believe that the only effective way to correct these problems is to hold our institutions accountable for their failures, including law enforcement,” Stewart said.
The notice of claim precedes the filing of a lawsuit in Utah, and is typically done within a year of the particular loss.
During the press conference, Petito's family once again urged victims of domestic abuse to use Gabby's memory as a springboard to getting help.
“All we can hope is that Gabby’s legacy and her memory will be a positive one. That through our tragedy and all the heartache that we go through daily; there’s not a day that goes by that we’re not talking about her, thinking about her. But her legacy to be one that is long-lasting and positive and helps people,” said Gabby's stepfather, Jim Schmidt.
In March, the Petito family filed a lawsuit against the parents of Brian Laundrie, accusing his family of knowing their son murdered Gabby and claiming they were helping him leave the country.