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FOX 13 Investigates: Review finds Moab police broke camera policies; Petito-Laundrie report could be soon

Posted at 8:12 PM, Dec 28, 2021

MOAB, Utah — Two Moab police officers violated the city’s body camera policies in a case that spurred an admonishment from a judge, according to a review.

The officers, Clint Johnston and Dan Malone, also violated policy by using course language with a suspect; Johnston also broke health rules by not wearing a mask near the suspect, the review found.

Moab Assistant Police Chief Braydon Palmer provided a copy Tuesday to FOX 13. Palmer also discussed a review of two other officers who in August of this year responded to a call involving Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie.

“We have received the (Petito-Laundrie) report back from the investigative entity,” Palmer told FOX 13. “Our office is in the process of reviewing that report, its findings and the recommendations.”

“I’m hoping early to middle of next week for that to be available for release,” Palmer added.

Petito admitted to officers she hit Laundrie while traveling through Moab. While state law says police are to arrest or cite aggressors in domestic violence cases, the Moab officers helped Laundrie find a motel for the night and let Petito go.

Petito was later found strangled in Wyoming. Laundrie died by suicide in Florida.

In the child abuse case, a Weber County Sheriff’s lieutenant conducted the review into the episode from February of this year. A father went into a store to buy groceries and left his 6-year-old son in the car on a 48-degree night.

When a passerby reported the boy alone in the car, wearing a hoodie but no coat, Johnston and Malone responded. They cited the father for misdemeanor child abuse.

State Judge Don M. Torgerson dismissed the case because the officers’ body cameras weren’t recording for the duration of the encounter and were muted for other parts.

“From my perspective, officers need to check their body cameras the same way they would check their firearms or their Tasers,” Torgerson said from the bench during an Aug. 30 hearing.

The words became a warning for law enforcement across central and southeast Utah who appear in Torgerson’s court. Also, the father’s defense attorney, former Grand County Attorney Happy Morgan, filed complaints against the officers.

The investigator said allegations Malone and Johnston was biased toward the father, who is Native American, was unfounded.

According to the review, Johnston claimed he pressed his camera’s on button, felt it vibrate and assumed it was on. Malone said he just forgot to start his camera. Both officers activated their cameras minutes after the investigation began.

Morgan issued a statement Tuesday.

“I appreciate the work of the Weber County Sheriff’s Office,” she said, “and I strongly encourage Moab City to learn how to process citizen complaints similarly, as is anticipated by its own policy, and Moab City to address the findings with rigorous corrective action.”

Palmer said a disciplinary process has begun. He declined to elaborate.

A news release from Moab police also discussed how the force plans to learn from the episode. Palmer plans trainings, including some in a virtual reality simulator as soon as the police department can find grant money.

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