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Independent Investigation Announced Into Moab Police's Response To Gabby Petito, Brian Laundrie Incident

An Aug. 12 altercation between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie drew a police response, but no charges were filed. 

By Jill Sederstrom
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The City of Moab, Utah announced an independent investigation into how police officers responded to a possible domestic violence call involving Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie after the officers “have been both praised and criticized for their response” in the media.

The couple were stopped by Moab Police officers on Aug. 12 after a concerned witness had called 911 after seeing the couple arguing outside the Moonflower Community Cooperative in Moab.

Police opted not to charge Petito or Laundrie in connection with the incident, but separated the pair for the night and urged them to take the time to calm down and recharge.

Petito disappeared a few weeks later and was found dead of a homicide on Sunday in the Grand Teton National Park after a lengthy search. A federal arrest warrant has been issued for Laundrie, who remains at large.

“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,” the City of Moab said in a statement obtained by Oxygen.com. “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.”

According to the city, the police department has “clear standards for officer conduct during a possible domestic dispute” and said an independent investigation conducted by an unaffiliated law enforcement agency will determine whether the officers followed department policy.

“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,” they said.

The city has also released more than an hour of body camera footage from the incident, which shows Petito and Laundrie providing similar accounts of what transpired that day.

“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 city said. “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.”

They added that ultimately, the city depends on law enforcement officers “to make the best possible decisions in evaluating every incident individually, based on the circumstances they encounter in that immediate moment.”

Moab Police Chief Bret Edge said in a statement to Oxygen.com that the independent investigation was launched after an outside party filed a request with the police department seeking a formal review of incident.

“We take all complaints seriously and we are committed to fully addressing these concerns,” he said.

Edge added that the department is willing to learn from any recommendations that might come from 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,” he said.

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A witness, identified in a police statement only as “Chris,” told investigators that he had seen the couple arguing on Aug. 12 outside the cooperative.

“They were talking aggressively @ each other & something definitely seemed off,” he wrote in a witness statement provided to Moab police and obtained by Oxygen.com. “At one point, they were sort of fighting over a phone—I think the male took the female’s phone. It appeared that he didn’t want her in the white van.”

According to the witness, Laundrie got back into the driver’s seat of the van as Petito followed behind.

“At one point she was punching him in the arm and/or face & trying to get into the van,” he wrote. “She eventually climbed in/over him & over to the passenger seat.”

The incident was called into 911 by someone who reported witnessing “the gentleman slapping the girl,” Fox News reports.

By the time police arrived, the couple was already gone but police spotted their white van driving erratically and pulled them over near Arches National Park as the van hit the curb.

Officers separated Laundrie and Petito—who was crying hysterically in the passenger seat—and had each provide an account of what happened.

Petito told officers it had been a “rough morning” and that Laundrie had tried to lock her out of the van during an argument. She said he had wanted her to calm down.

“Sometimes I get really frustrated,” she said, citing her anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

She said the fight broke out after she had been working on the couple’s social media pages—which followed the couple on their cross-country adventure to visit the nation’s national parks.

“He doesn’t really believe I could do any of it,” she told the officers, admitting she had hit Laundrie when she thought she was going to be left without a ride.

During his account, Laundrie, who had scratches along his face, said he had tried to de-escalate the situation.

“I said, ‘Let’s just take a breather and let’s not go anywhere. Let’s just calm down for a minute,” he said.

Laundrie allegedly “grabbed her face and pushed her back as she pressed upon him and the van,” after she began to slap him, according to police report obtained by Oxygen.com.

Petito was determined to be the “primary aggressor,” however, officers concluded in a report that it was more of a “mental/emotional health ‘break’” and separated the pair for the night rather than arresting either one of them.

Before Petito left the scene, a park ranger and Moab Police officer both spoke with her about the possible detrimental effects of the relationship, with Ranger Melissa Hulls describing the relationship as “toxic.”

“I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life,” Hulls told The Deseret News.

After the incident, Petito and Laundrie made their way to the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, where her body would eventually be found.

Investigators are now searching for Laundrie, who disappeared last week after returning home to Florida on Sept. 1 without his girlfriend.

"The Murder of Gabby Petito: Truth, Lies and Social Media" will air on Oxygen on Monday, January 24 at 9/8c. It's also available to stream on Peacock now.