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Moab city will investigate police handling of fight between Gabby Petito, fiancé
The city of Moab will launch an investigation into how police handled an incident last month between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie, a city spokesperson told 2News. (Photo: Moab Police Department)

The city of Moab will launch an investigation into how police handled a fight last month between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie, the city confirmed to 2News. 

"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." 

Moab Police Chief Bret Edge said an "outside party" requested a formal investigation into how officers handled that incident August 12  between Petito, who later went missing and whose body was found Sunday in Wyoming, and her fiancé, Laundrie, who has been named a person of interest in the case and remains missing. 

The Moab Police Department released the body camera footage of the incident involving Gabby Petito and her fiancé Brian Laundrie on Sept. 16, 2021. (Photo: Moab Police Department)

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

The chief added, "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." 

The Moab incident captured national attention and has been the subject of widespread public discussion and criticism. A witness called 911 and reported that Laundrie had slapped Petito. Police later pulled the couple over at Arches National Park.

The Moab Police Department released the body camera footage of the incident involving Gabby Petito and her fiancé Brian Laundrie on Sept. 16, 2021. (Photo: Moab Police Department)

In body camera footage obtained by 2News, Laundrie told officers Petito caused visible scratches on his face, and Petito admitted she "punched his arm" as they were getting pulled over. There was never a detailed mention of Laundrie hitting Petito. 

The Moab Police Department released the body camera footage of the incident involving Gabby Petito and her fiancé Brian Laundrie on Sept. 16, 2021. (Moab Police Department)Thumbnail

Police later said they had considered charging Petito with a domestic violence crime. Ultimately, however, the responding officers decided they were dealing with a "mental health crisis" and not a domestic assault, and no one was charged.

The Moab Police Department released the body camera footage of the incident involving Gabby Petito and her fiancé Brian Laundrie on Sept. 16, 2021. (Moab Police Department)

The Moab Police department's actions with the pair faced criticism shortly following the release of the body camera footage. 

On Wednesday night, the mother of slain University of Utah student Lauren McClusky expressed her disappointment with the way the officers handled the domestic violence incident between the couple.

"Police didn't think Lauren was in danger when she reported to them because she was stoic,"  Jill McCluskey tweeted. "Police didn't think Gabby Petito was in danger because she was crying and her abuser said she was crazy."

Chris Bertram, a former deputy police chief, called the investigation "a good start" but noted it's complicated because everything has been viewed through the lens of Petito's death. Still, he said, investigations can be helpful in leading to better results in law enforcement.

"Let’s look at this from a deeper strategic view and see what it is that actually happened, why it happened, and can there be improvements anywhere in their process," Bertram said.

Former Moab Police Chief Jim Winder told 2News Thursday he thinks the city is handling the situation appropriately. He also said he believes the officers acted patiently and compassionately.

"I am frustrated with the cultural phenomenon that I see developing in which no police call or decision can ever be viewed in the context officers see them but rather the multitudes who endlessly review the incident from the comfort of their armchair," Winder said.

Below is the full statement from Moab city officials regarding the investigation:

The death of Gabrielle Petito in Wyoming is a heartbreaking tragedy, and all of us are deeply saddened to learn the outcome of the nationwide effort to locate her. Our sincere condolences go out to the Petito family.

With the weeks-long search for Ms. Petito across the western U.S., news that a call to Grand County Dispatch on Aug. 12 reported a possible domestic dispute between Ms. Petito and Brian Laundrie here in Moab has naturally led to questions from the media and the public about the call. During the past week, our police officers have been both praised and criticized for their response and their resolution of the incident involving Ms. Petito and Mr. Laundrie.

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.

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.

We understand that individuals can view the same situation in very different ways, and we recognize how the death of Ms. Petito more than two weeks later in Wyoming might lead to speculation, in hindsight, about actions taken during the incident in Moab. The purpose of the City’s formal investigation is to gather the underlying facts and evidence necessary 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. 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. Moab Police will also make sure our officers are available to answer any questions those investigating agencies may have.

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