Gabby Petito's parents file wrongful death lawsuit against Utah police

The parents of Gabby Petito are suing police in Utah, alleging officers neglected to properly investigate her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, two weeks before he killed the 22-year-old in a case that garnered international attention.

The lawsuit seeks $50 million in damages and was filed against the police department of Moab, Utah, a rural town known for being an entryway to iconic national parks, including Arches National Park.

Petito's parents, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schimdt, argue officers should have issued a domestic violence citation after interviewing Petito and her fiancé Brian Laundrie, 23, in August 2021 about a fight they had. If officers had done more to protect Petito while investigating the violent exchange, her murder two weeks later could have been prevented, the parents argue in the lawsuit.

"The officers egregiously misinterpreted Gabby’s extreme emotional distress, seeing it as the cause of the domestic violence rather than its result," the lawsuit reads.

Thursday's filing is the latest development in the high-profile case around Gabby Petito's death. What began as a missing person's case last summer rode a wave of true crime obsession to become a social media sensation, drawing amateur online sleuthers and the kind of worldwide attention that can help authorities locate missing people.

CONCEALMENT: Gabby Petito's family sues Brian Laundrie's parents, alleging they knew of her murder

Petito went missing in late August 2021 during a cross-country trip with Laundrie. A few weeks later, her remains were found in Teton County, Wyoming, and a coroner ruled her death a homicide by strangulation.

Laundrie was named a person of interest in Petito’s disappearance and disappeared himself before being found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Florida’s Carlton Reserve in October.

At a press conference Thursday, Schmidt, other family members and their team of lawyers stood in front of an old picture of Petito smiling in a slot canyon.

Gabby Petito's mother Nichole Schmidt, speaks during a news conference as her husband Jim Schmidt looks on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, in Salt Lake City.
Gabby Petito's mother Nichole Schmidt, speaks during a news conference as her husband Jim Schmidt looks on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, in Salt Lake City.

“There are laws put in place to protect victims. And those laws were not followed. And we don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” Schmidt said, her voice quivering.

The suit also claims police officers "coached Gabby to provide answers that the officers used to justify their decision not to enforce Utah law," which requires action be taken in response to domestic violence incidents.

Moab Police Officer Eric Pratt "was fundamentally biased in his approach to the investigation, choosing to believe Gabby’s abuser, ignoring evidence that Gabby was the victim and intentionally looking for loopholes to get around the requirements of Utah law and his duty to protect Gabby," the lawsuit says.

After the lawsuit was filed, the city of Moab said the death was tragic yet not the fault of their police department.

“Our officers acted with kindness, respect, and empathy toward Ms. Petito,” city spokesperson Lisa Adams said in a statement. “No one could have predicted the tragedy that would occur weeks later and hundreds of miles away, and the City of Moab will ardently defend against this lawsuit.”

The lawsuit follows a notice of claim filed in August, notifying Moab that Petito's family intended to file for damages due to wrongful death. An independent investigation in January faulted police for making “several unintentional mistakes” including not issuing a domestic violence citation after Petito told police she had hit her boyfriend.

Contributing: Scott Gleason, USA TODAY; Associated Press.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gabby Petito family files wrongful death lawsuit against Moab police