TAMPA, Fla. - The Moab City Police Department was told back in August it had 60 days to respond to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Gabby Petito, who was presumably killed by her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, days after the agency’s officers responded to a possible instance of domestic violence between the couple.
Now, Gabby’s family and lawyers say they have evidence that shows one of the Moab, Utah PD officers who responded to the incident "has a history of pervasive professional and sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment and intimate partner violence, [and] was manifestly unfit and unsafe to be a police officer."
The wrongful death lawsuit seeks $50 million in damages, but Petito’s family says it’s about holding law enforcement accountable and repairing systems that fail victims.
Gabby Petito’s family attorney, James W. McConkie, said in a statement that domestic violence is an "epidemic" and "silent killer, the sign[s] and symptoms of which often go unrecognized by those not familiar with interpersonal violence."
"The purpose of this lawsuit is to honor Gabby’s legacy by demanding accountability and working toward systemic changes to protect victims of domestic abuse and violence and prevent such tragedies in the future," the statement from McConkie said.
The wrongful death suit claims the Moab City Police Department and its officers failed to follow the law and, therefore, failed to protect Petito.
Petito’s family and legal team says witnesses and evidence now show that Moab City officer Eric Pratt has a history of domestic abuse and "has used authority and threats of physical violence to control and intimidate sexual partners," as stated by attorney Brian C. Stewart in the statement.
A portion of the notebook that Brian Laundrie left. (Michael Ruiz/ Fox News Digital)
According to Fox News, a Utah woman claimed she received death threats from Pratt, who resigned as police chief from another department before becoming a patrol officer for Moab City PD.
Stewart said in the statement, "Moab City Police Department knew or should have known that Officer Pratt, who has a history of pervasive professional and sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment and intimate partner violence, was manifestly unfit and unsafe to be a police officer."
Officer Eric Pratt questions Gabby Petito during a call about domestic violence between Petito and boyfriend Brian Laundrie
The legal team representing Petito’s family also said Officer Pratt admitted he knew Gabby was in trouble while at the scene of the domestic violence call.
Pratt stated at the scene, "You know why the domestic assault code is there. It’s there to protect people. The reason they don’t give us discretion on these things is because too many times women who are at risk want to go back to their abuser, they just wanted him to stop, and they don’t want to be separated, they don’t want him charged, they don’t want him to go to jail. And then they end up getting worse and worse treatment, and then they end up getting killed."
Screengrabs from police bodycam in Moab, Utah, on Aug. 12 show the couple following a domestic violence call.
Despite his acknowledgment of the danger she was in, attorneys say Pratt intentionally chose not to follow the law.
The Moab City Police Department released a statement to FOX 13 Salt Lake City, saying "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."
"In this particular situation, and looking at the facts of this case and looking what law enforcement did and didn't do, it's a very hard road to overcome for the plaintiffs, the Petito family, in proving these allegations," said Anthony Rickman, a Tampa Attorney and legal analyst. "I think one of the biggest things in this case is the failure to train, failure to supervise, and a failure law enforcement to do what they should have done in conducting this investigation."
An internal investigation in 2021 did find missteps and prompted changes within the Moab City Police Department.
"Now what the family is saying is that because they didn't do these things, because they weren't trained, because they didn't identify the signs of domestic abuse, Gabby Petito wouldn’t have been killed. And had they have done their job, been adequately trained and identify these things, then she'd still be alive today," said Rickman. "But the mere filing this lawsuit going through the court system in the eyes of the families, going to open the eyes of a lot of people to help see the signs of domestic violence and take the necessary steps."
Survivor advocates said those moments show why training is crucial. They said what Gabby described as hands near her face was a missed opportunity.
"So having his hands near her neck is a little bit predictive of something that could go wrong in the future. None of us have a crystal ball. We don't know for sure. But certainly there are warning flags, red flags," said Mindy Murphy, the Spring of Tampa Bay president and CEO. "We have an epidemic of one in four women will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetime. That number hasn't changed."
Suing police makes a point the Petito family hopes will resonate across the country.
"I've noticed that a lot of these lawsuits out of tragedies, they really are for a higher purpose. It is about trying not only to seek justice for the person that you lost, but also to change the system so that fewer people lose loved ones," said Murphy. "The reality is obviously when someone is murdered, the person that we need to most hold accountable is the person who committed the murder. But I do think that there are things that are predictive."