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Moab police chief granted leave as investigation into Petito, Laundrie stop looms

The city did not say why Chief Bret Edge was granted a leave of absence.

(Zak Podmore | The Salt Lake Tribune) Moab Police Chief Bret Edge has gone on leave. His department is facing a formal review of its handling of a police stop involving Florida woman Gabby Petito and her fiance Brian Laundrie weeks before Petito’s disappearance and death.

Moab Police Chief Bret Edge has taken a leave of absence as his department faces a formal investigation into its handling of a police stop involving Florida woman Gabby Petito and her fiance Brian Laundrie weeks before Petito’s disappearance and death.

A city spokeswoman confirmed that Edge went on leave on Monday, which he requested under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The act provides eligible employees with a limited amount of unpaid leave during a qualifying event.

The spokeswoman refused to release any further information about Edge’s leave and did not comment on whether it was related to the Petito case.

(Moab Police Department) Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito talks to a police officer after police pulled over the van she was traveling in with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, 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.

On Thursday, the city of Moab had announced that an outside agency would investigate its police department’s handling of Petito and Laundrie’s case. The couple were stopped by Moab police officers on Aug. 12 after a witness reported a “domestic problem” between the two.

Petito and Laundrie had been on a monthslong, cross-country road trip when police stopped them in Moab. Petito was reported missing on Sept. 11. Her body was found on Sept. 19 near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Her death was ruled a homicide.

Laundrie, who returned to Florida without Petito on Sept. 1, has been named a “person of interest” in her disappearance. He later disappeared after leaving his parents’ home for a nature preserve. Federal investigators last week issued an arrest warrant for Laundrie, who has been charged with unauthorized use of a debit card. Authorities continue to search for him.

According to a report about the Aug. 12 police interaction, a witness outside of a Moab food cooperative had reported an argument and apparent altercation between the couple. Moab officers later located and stopped their camper van near Arches National Park. At the time, Petito was “crying uncontrollably” and Laundrie had “minor visible scratches” on his face and “small scratches” to his right arm, officers noted in the report.

(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 couple told police that they were in love, engaged to be married and “desperately didn’t wish anyone to be charged with a crime,” the report states. An investigating officer opted to separate them for the night so they could “relax their emotions,” driving Laundrie to a hotel and leaving Petito with the van.

“I do not believe the situation escalated to the level of a domestic assault as much as that of a mental health crisis,” an investigating officer wrote.

Last week, Edge announced that Moab police would “identify an unaffiliated law enforcement agency to conduct the formal investigation” into his department’s encounter with Petito and Laundrie. As of Tuesday, that investigation had not begun, according to the city spokeswoman.

In a statement released last week, Edge said he looked forward to the investigation.

“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,” Edge said in the statement.

Moab released no information about how long Edge would remain on leave.

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