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Moab launches investigation into police response to ‘domestic problem’ involving Petito, Laundrie

Gabby Petito traveled through Moab with her fiance Brian Laundrie about a month before she was reported missing.

(Moab Police Department) Brian Laundrie talks to a police officer after police pulled over the van he was traveling in with his girlfriend, Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito, near the entrance to Arches National Park on Aug. 12, 2021. The couple was pulled over while they were having an emotional fight. Petito was reported missing by her family a month later and is now the subject of a nationwide search.

The city of Moab has launched a formal investigation into how Moab police officers responded to a “domestic problem” reported there between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie about a month before Petito was reported missing, officials announced Thursday.

Petito, 22, was reported missing on Sept. 11 and found dead Sunday near Grand Teton National Park. She and her fiance Brian Laundrie had been traveling on a monthslong, cross-country road trip together before she disappeared.

Laundrie, who is missing, is considered a person of interest in Petito’s disappearance. He returned alone on Sept. 1 to Florida — where he and Petito lived before embarking on their trip — and was driving the same camper van that he and Petito had been traveling in. He refused to speak with investigators and left home Sept. 14, headed for a nature reserve in Sarasota County, Florida, his parents told police.

Authorities continue to search for him. Federal officials this week issued a warrant for his arrest after he was indicted on one count of unauthorized use of a debit card. It’s unclear who the card belonged to, but Laundrie is accused of using it from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, around the time that Petito disappeared.

Police in Moab on Aug. 12 stopped the couple near Arches National Park after a witness reported an argument and apparent altercation between the two outside of a food cooperative in town.

According to a police report that documented the incident, officers spoke with the witness, Petito and Laundrie before deciding to separate the couple for the evening so they could “relax their emotions.” Recently released body camera footage captured the interaction.

The officer drove Laundrie to a hotel and left Petito with the couple’s camper van, records state. He concluded in the report that he did “not believe the situation escalated to the level of a domestic assault as much as that of a mental health crisis.”

“The Moab City Police Department has clear standards for officer conduct during a possible domestic dispute and our officers are trained to follow those standards and protocol,” the city said in a statement Thursday. “At this time, the City of Moab is unaware of any breach of Police Department policy during this incident. However, the City will conduct a formal investigation and, based on the results, will take any next steps that may be appropriate.”

An outside party had filed a request with the Moab City Police Department asking for a formal investigation into the incident, Moab City Police Chief Bret Edge wrote in a statement.

“In compliance with police department policy, we will conduct an investigation,” Edge wrote. “The police department will identify an unaffiliated law enforcement agency to conduct the formal investigation on our behalf.”

The city stated Thursday that officials understand that Petito’s death may have led to “speculation, in hindsight, about actions taken during the incident in Moab,” but the purpose of the city’s investigation is to gather facts and evidence to make a “thorough, informed evaluation of such actions.”

“Ultimately, we depend on our law enforcement officers to make the best possible decisions in evaluating every incident individually, based on the circumstances they encounter in that immediate moment,” the statement read. “We also appreciate the assistance in this incident from cooperating rangers with the National Park Service. The Moab City Police Department will make all information from this incident available to the law enforcement agencies investigating Ms. Petito’s death.”

Edge said the department takes all complaints seriously. The city also stated its sincere condolences to the Petito family.

“We look forward to the investigation,” Edge wrote. “Should the investigation identify areas for improvement we will take that information to heart, learn from it and make changes if needed to ensure we are providing the best response and service to our community.”

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