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City of Moab responds after Gabby Petito family files $50M lawsuit against police department

Posted at 8:41 AM, Nov 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-03 14:08:38-04

MOAB, Utah — As the family of Gabby Petito filed a $50 million lawsuit against the Moab Police Department, city officials say they will "ardently defend" against it.

The lawsuit was officially filed Thursday morning in Utah. In light of the filing, attorneys and the four parents of Gabby Petito traveled to Salt Lake City to give their thoughts.

"We are pretty broken because of it," Nichole Schmidt, Gabby's mother, said in tears during the announcement. "We miss her so much."

"The four of us don't want to be here," Joseph Petito, Gabby's father explained. "We'd give it up in a second if she was back."

Watch: Family and attorneys speak about lawsuit against Moab Police Department

Family and attorneys explained they see the lawsuit as an opportunity for justice and to create future change.

"We saw it as an opportunity to help other families," said Schmidt. "We feel we need to bring justice because she could have been protected that day. There are laws put in place to protect victims and those laws were not followed."

In a statement obtained by FOX 13 News, the City of Moab stated that while the death of Gabby Petito was a "terrible tragedy," Moab City Police Department officers are not responsible for her murder.

"The attorneys for the Petito family seem to suggest that somehow our officers could see into the future based on this single interaction," the statement reads in part. "In truth, on Aug. 12, no one could have predicted the tragedy that would occur weeks later and hundreds of miles away, and the City of Moab will ardently defend against this lawsuit."

Attorneys for the Petito family claimed that if officers had followed the law, Gabby would still be alive. They also believe the officers' negligence contributed to Petito's death.

"The purpose of this lawsuit is to honor Gabby's legacy," explained James McConkie, lawyer for the Petito family. "By demanding accountability and working for change in the system to protect victims of domestic abuse and violence and to prevent such tragedies in the future."

Petito and her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, had a run-in with Moab police officers in August when a witness said they saw a man, identified as Laundrie, hitting a woman.

After officers pulled over the couple's van, they determined Petito was the aggressor and separated the couple for the night.

Officers believed the incident was "more accurately a mental/emotional health 'break' than a domestic assault," a police report reads.

"At that time, our officers acted with kindness, respect, and empathy toward Ms. Petito," a statement from the City of Moab reads in part.

Attorneys for the Petito family said police should have recognized the signs and symptoms of a domestic violence crisis and that the two responding officers intentionally sought out "loopholes" to avoid enforcement

"The signs and symptoms were there when the police interviewed Gabby," McConkie said. "But they were not acted upon even though Utah law required it."

Joseph Petito
Joseph Petito, father of Gabby Petito, holds his head during a news conference Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, in Salt Lake City.

The lawsuit alleges that not only were the two responding officers negligent but that the Moab City Police Department did not equip officers to deal with domestic violence situations and hired officers who were unfit to serve.

"Some things need to change," Joseph Petito explained. "Changes haven't happened and those changes need to come. Unfortunately, this is the way - that's the best way to have those changes made and it's that simple."

An investigation into the interaction revealed the two Moab Police officers made "several unintentional mistakes" and recommendations were given to the department for software upgrades and additional training.

More than a month later, Petito's body was found in the Bridger-Teton National Forest and her cause of death was determined to be strangulation.

Laundrie claimed responsibility for Petito's death before he returned to Florida and died by suicide.

"Obviously, litigation can't bring Gabby back," explained Dick Baldwin, who is also representing the family. "But we believe Utah law provides them an avenue for obtaining some form of justice in this case."

The Petito family has also filed a lawsuit against the parents of Brian Laundrie, claiming his parents knew their son murdered Gabby and helped him leave the country.