SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The parents of Gabby Petito have filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Moab City Police Department, alleging its officers were negligent in their interactions with the 22-year-old and her fiancé two weeks before her death last summer.
“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,” attorney James W. McConkie said in a statement Thursday.
The lawsuit accuses the department and its officers of failing to follow the law and failing to protect Petito during an investigation into a domestic disturbance in August – just weeks before he killed her. The lawsuit states that officers improperly determined Petito was the primary aggressor in the interaction and misapplied Utah’s laws related to domestic abuse.
The City of Moab issued a statement Thursday denying responsibility for her death and saying they would defend against the lawsuit.
“The death of Gabrielle Petito in Wyoming is a terrible tragedy, and we feel profound sympathy for the Petito and Schmidt families and the painful loss they have endured. At the same time, it is clear that Moab City Police Department officers are not responsible for Gabrielle Petito’s eventual murder,” the city said.
The city said its officers “acted with kindness, respect, and empathy toward Ms. Petito” during their interaction.
“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,” the city said.
Petito was 22 when she and her fiancé Brian Laundrie, 23, embarked on a road trip through the American West last summer, documenting their #VanLife experiences online in idyllic, sun-drenched posts.
She was reported missing after Laundrie returned to his parents’ Florida home on September 1, and parents were unable to contact her, sparking a nationwide hunt that became a fascination for online sleuths.
Her body was found several weeks later in Grand Teton National Forest, and a coroner ruled she died by strangulation. Laundrie subsequently went missing in a Florida nature preserve, and his body was found in mid-October alongside a notebook in which he admitted killing her.