The parents of Gabby Petito are planning to file a lawsuit against the Moab City Police Department for $50 million over the handling of the domestic incident between Petito and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie.
The claim of intent to file a wrongful death lawsuit, filed Monday, claims Petito might still be alive if the officers who stopped the couple had been properly trained to handle domestic violence situations.
The lawsuit names the Moab Police Department, Chief Bret Edge, Assistant Chief Braydon Palmer, Officer Eric Pratt, and Officer Daniel Robbins as defendants.
Moab police release body cam footage: Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie argued before she vanished
In a virtual press conference via Zoom Monday, Petito's family and their attorneys addressed the filing.
"This is just one part of the family's broader effort to raise awareness and education to protect victims of domestic violence and to help make sure our governmental institutions are held to account," said Brian Stewart, one of the attorneys on the case.
Steward said the lawsuit is not to punish the individual officers but to support changes that need to be made to help law enforcement with their jobs and to notice the signs of domestic violence.
The Moab City Police Department currently has 21 employees, consisting of 15 officers and six civil employees, according to the department's website.
During the conference, Nicole Schmidt, Petito's mother, could be seen wiping away tears.
"This is just bringing back a lot of pain," Schmidt said, her voice breaking. "We just want to help people. We are going to do whatever we can, and that's why we're here."
What happened when Moab police encountered Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie?
Petito, 22, and Laundrie, 23, embarked on a cross-country van trip in early July 2021.
On Aug. 12, a Moab City police officer pulled over the van after it was seen speeding and hitting a curb near Arches National Park.
Gabby Petito timeline: From road trip with Brian Laundrie to active criminal investigation
Body camera video showed Petito was visibly upset when the officer approached. She told him that she and Laundrie had been fighting that morning.
When the officer spoke with Laundrie, he explained that the couple had a minor scuffle over Laundrie climbing into the van with dirty feet.
The claim states that the officers didn't question Laundrie about the inconsistencies in his telling of events that day. Instead, they determined Petito had been the aggressor, but Laundrie said he didn't want to pursue a domestic violence charge against her.
During the encounter, the lawsuit stated Petito was on the phone with her parents, who demanded she fly home. When they learned police were involved, they accepted Petito's assurances that she was OK to continue on the trip with Laundrie.
Medical Examiner: Report confirms Brian Laundrie died from self-inflicted gunshot wound
Moab police didn't file any charges, opting to separate the couple for the night, with Petito staying with the van and Laundrie spending the night at a motel.
Timeline of events since Gabby Petito's death
Petito was later found dead from blunt force trauma near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
Laundrie returned to his parents' home in North Port, before disappearing. His remains were found on Oct. 20, 2021, in Myakkahatcchee Creek Park.
Petito's parents also filed a negligence lawsuit against Christopher and Roberta Laundrie in March, claiming that the couple knew the whereabouts of their son following Petito’s death and may have been trying to get him out of the country prior to his death.
The Laundries' filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit against them, but in June, 12th Circuit Court Judge Hunter W. Carroll denied the motion.
Carroll said that the ruling did not determine what happened to Petito, only that Petito's parents made a valid claim against the Laundries and can proceed with their lawsuit.
A jury trial in the case is expected to take place in August 2023.
Gabriela Szymanowska covers the legal system for the Herald-Tribune in partnership with Report for America. You can support her work with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America. Contact Gabriela Szymanowska at email@example.com, or on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Gabby Petito's parents file wrongful death lawsuit against Moab police