(NewsNation) — The family of Gabby Petito filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit on Thursday. They claim the Moab City Police Department in Utah failed to recognize signs of domestic violence. Sunday night, Petito family attorney Brian Stewart said police should have seen “Gabby was clearly the victim.”
The Petito family’s allegations are related to an investigation from the Moab City Police Department on Aug. 12, 2021.
Body camera footage from that day showed an interaction between Petito and a Moab officer. In the footage, Petito claimed she started an altercation between herself and Brian Laundrie and that he grabbed her during a fight. Another video showed that authorities let Laundrie and Petito leave separately.
They were on a cross-country trip at the time of the incident that happened just weeks before Petito was last heard from and more than a month before her body was recovered in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming.
The lawsuit suggests police officers were not properly trained on ways to recognize the aggressor in an instance of domestic violence and that the officers did not appropriately respond to the situation involving Petito.
Brian Stewart, the Petito family’s lawyer, appeared on NewsNation to discuss the new lawsuit.
“The family believes that these officers knew what the law was. They knew that it required an arrest and separation at the scene. But that these officers looked for loopholes in order to not follow the law,” Stewart said.
“They ignored Gabby’s injuries. They ignored witnesses, the 911 call. It said that Brian was the primary aggressor, and that he had injured her. When she indicated to officers that he had grabbed her face, cut her on her cheek, they ignored that as well and just kept right on coaching her to say what they needed her to say so they wouldn’t have to do anything,” he continued.
Stewart said victims often will take blame for a situation just to de-escalate it, and that officers should have recognized that.
“Often the victim will take blame, will do and say what they can to diffuse the situation, and make law enforcement go away. But their duty is to investigate, investigate the facts, and if they had done that they would have learned from witnesses and the 911 caller that Brian was the primary aggressor. They would have documented Gabby’s injuries and asked her about whether or not Brian had hit her before. If they followed their protocol, they would have known that Brian was the primary aggressor. But they didn’t do that investigation. They were looking for a way out of the situation,” Stewart said.
“Officers should know to expect that and know to investigate further. And if they had done that, they would have seen that Gabby was clearly the victim,” Stewart continued.
The City of Moab released the following statement on the lawsuit to NewsNation affiliate KTVX:
“Ms. Petito is believed to have died in Wyoming in late August 2021, more than two weeks after she and Brian Laundrie visited Moab and interacted with Moab City Police. At that time, our officers acted with kindness, respect, and empathy toward Ms. Petito.
The attorneys for the Petito family seem to suggest that somehow our officers could see into the future based on this single interaction. In truth, on Aug. 12, 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.”
Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, said laws could have protected her daughter that day but they were not followed. Through the lawsuit, Schmidt hopes others will be protected moving forward.
“We feel a need to bring justice because she could have been protected that day,” Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, said. “There are laws put into place to protect victims and those laws were not followed and we don’t want it to happen to anybody else. And it keeps happening.”
Laundrie disappeared two days after Petito was reported missing on Sept. 11, 2021. The next month, Laundrie’s remains were located in Florida.
According to the FBI, Laundrie claimed responsibility for Petito’s death in a notebook found near his remains.