Attorneys for Gabby Petito’s family released a photo of her injured face Monday to back up their lawsuit against Utah’s Moab City Police Department, which they say overlooked obvious signs that the woman was a victim of domestic violence and ultimately contributed to her high-profile death last year.
A time stamp suggests that the photo, retrieved from Petito’s cellphone, was taken just two minutes before a bystander called 911 saying they’d witnessed a man slapping a woman in a Moab parking lot — leading police to Petito as well as the man who would later be identified as her killer, fiancé Brian Laundrie.
The August 2021 image, Petito family attorneys said, shows a cut “on her left cheek as well as blood smeared from her forehead, across her left eye and cheek and over her nose, indicating that she was grabbed over her face in such a way that her airways were likely obstructed.” But when Petito pointed out the injuries to the responding officers, the attorneys continued, “the seriousness and significance this type of assault and injury was completely ignored.”
The couple’s conversation with police was captured on body camera footage. In it, a visibly distressed and crying 22-year-old Petito told officers that Laundrie “grabbed” her face, cutting her with his nail. But after Petito said she’d hit Laundrie first, the officers determined she was the primary aggressor and told her she could be charged with domestic violence.
The officers went on to deem the incident a “mental health crisis,” which didn’t require any charges, and suggested that the couple separate for the night — with Laundrie taken to a hotel room and Petito left in their camper van, which the pair were using to travel across the country.
Later that month, Petito was strangled to death in Wyoming, where her remains were discovered in September. In October, Laundrie was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Florida, with the FBI later stating that he had confessed to Petito’s killing in a notebook. The case attracted significant interest from internet users and attention from news media at the time.
Petito’s tragic outcome could have been prevented if officers had picked up on clear signs of domestic abuse, lawyers for the family are arguing.
“Moab Police failed to recognize the violent grabbing of Gabby’s face and obstruction of her nose, mouth, and airways as a critical precursor to her eventual death by strangulation that occurred a short time later,” the Petito family’s attorneys said this week. “Moab Police failed to listen to Gabby, failed to investigate her injuries and the seriousness of her assault, and failed to follow their own training, policies, and Utah law.”
The family first announced the lawsuit in August, saying they were not suing the individual officers but rather the department as a whole for not properly training officers on recognizing domestic abuse.
“We believe that the only effective way to correct these problems is to hold our institutions accountable for their failures, including in law enforcement,” Brian Stewart, a lawyer for the family, said at the time.
The Moab City Police Department passed a request for comment on to the city of Moab, which said it would not comment on matters related to active litigation.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Call 1-866-331-9474 or text “loveis” to 22522 for the National Dating Abuse Helpline.