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Moab Police officers were told a witness saw Brian Laundrie hit Gabby Petito before the couple was pulled over last month, even though that wasn't reflected in a subsequent police report on the incident, according to a new report.
The police interaction has been under scrutiny after Moab Police officers opted to let Laundrie and Petito go on Aug. 12 without filing any charges in connection with the reported domestic violence incident.
Petito disappeared just weeks later. Her remains were recovered at the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming on Sept. 19 after she died from what a medical examiner has classified as a homicide.
According to new audio obtained by local station KSTU, Moab Police officers were told that a witness had seen Laundrie hit Petito outside the Moonflower Community Cooperative before the couple’s van was pulled over near the Arches National Park.
“RP (reporting party) states a male hit a female. Domestic. He got into a white Ford Transit van. Has a black ladder on the back. Florida plate,” a dispatcher told the police officer, before providing the license plate number of the vehicle. “The female who got hit, they both—the male and the female—both got into the van and headed north.”
The 911 caller told police—in audio previously released and obtained by Fox News—that he saw “the gentleman slapping the girl.”
When the dispatcher clarified by asking “He was slapping her?” the caller responded that is what he saw.
“They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car and they drove off,” the caller said.
However, in a police report obtained by Oxygen.com, an officer wrote that although it initially “wasn’t clear” what had happened, “No one reported that the male struck the female.”
The couple had already left the area by the time police arrived; however, an officer spotted the vehicle speeding and driving erratically and pulled it over near the Arches National Park after it hit a curb.
Body camera footage released by the department, showed an officer walking up to the side of the vehicle where he found Laundrie behind the wheel and Petito, crying hysterically, beside him in the passenger seat.
Police asked the pair to get out of the van and separated them as they spoke to each person about what happened outside of the cooperative.
“We’ve just been fighting all morning and he wouldn’t let me in the car before,” Petito said in the footage, before adding that Laundrie “told me I needed to calm down.”
Petito admitted to hitting Laundrie after she was concerned that he would leave without her and told officers he had grabbed her face during the altercation.
She tried to blame the incident on her anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, saying “Sometimes I get really frustrated.”
Laundrie told officers he had tried to de-escalate the situation by trying to get them to take a minute apart.
“I said, ‘Let’s just take a breather. Let’s not, you know, go anywhere, let’s calm down for a minute’ because she was getting a little worked up,” he said, adding that he had gotten some scratches along his face when she hit him with her phone.
“The male tried to create distance by telling Gabbie to go take a walk to calm down, she didn’t want to be separated from the male, and began slapping him,” an officer wrote in the report. “He grabbed her face and pushed her back as she pressed upon him and the van, he tried to lock her out and succeeded except for his driver’s door, she opened that and forced her way over him and into the vehicle before it drove off.”
Although Petito was deemed the “primary aggressor” in the situation, police decided that it had been more of an “mental/emotional health ‘break’” and chose not to arrest either party. Officers separated the pair for the night, getting Laundrie a hotel room through a domestic violence organization and giving Petito the keys to the couple’s van.
As scrutiny has increased about how officers handled the investigation, the City of Moab announced last week in a statement obtained by Oxygen.com that an independent third-party will be tasked with investigating the officers’ actions to see if they complied with 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 said the police officers have “been both praised and criticized for their response” to resolving the incident by others since the footage has been released.
“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.”
Petito was remembered Sunday in a memorial service in Long Island, New York that drew more than 1,000 people.
Her father, Joseph Petito, called his daughter “the most amazing person I’ve ever met,” Fox News reports.
Laundrie, who has been named a person of interest in his girlfriend’s disappearance, went missing from his family’s Florida home on Sept. 14. He told his family he was going to go hiking in Sarasota County’s Carlton Reserve and never returned home.
Law enforcement authorities have searched the 24,000-acre reserve extensively, but North Port Police Department spokesman Josh Taylor told Fox News Sunday night that the search is now being scaled back.
“I don’t think you’re going to see those large scale types of efforts this week,” he said. “The FBI is now leading the search. I’m told, it will be scaled back and targeted based on intelligence. Hopefully, water will lower in areas hard to currently access.”
Anyone with information about Laundrie’s current whereabouts is urged to contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI.
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