Moab Police seeks more training after mistakes in Gabby Petito incident
MOAB, Utah (ABC4/KDXU) - Moab city officials confirm they are seeking additional domestic violence training for officers after an in-depth investigation by Price City Police Captain Brandon Ratcliffe.
Ratcliffe admits several mistakes were made during the Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie incident.
“The biggest mistake was not following the law, you know Utah code states that we shall make an arrest when there’s probable cause to believe that a domestic violence incident took place and we could determine who the predominant aggressor was,” says Ratcliffe.
Captain Ratcliffe was set to investigate the domestic violence incident of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie that took place on Aug. 12, 2021. He went through body-worn camera footage and interviewed each of the officers involved.
He states in his 90-page document, “There are many “what-if’s” that have presented itself as part of this investigation, the primary one being: Would Gabby be alive today if this case was handled differently? That is an impossible question to answer despite it being the answer many people want to know. Nobody knows and nobody will ever know the answer to that question. My job is to provide information into the details of this investigation and if it was handled appropriately.”
Eric Pratt and Daniel Robbins were the officers who pulled over the couple after someone called 911 reporting a domestic dispute.
“In this job, we are dealing with people and people are the hardest thing to predict, although the mistakes were made, it shows on the video the mistakes weren’t made intentionally,” he says.
After officials talked to the pair, they reported finding several injuries on Laundries’ body and he admitted to pushing Petito after a “little squabble”. She also admitted to being physically violent with him. Petito also had noticeable marks on her body.
Ratcliffe notes in his report: “When asked about medication, Brian said he doesn’t take any but said Gabby has told him in the past to take Xanax because of his high anxiety. When asked if Gabby takes medication, he replies while chuckling/smirking, ‘She’s just crazy!’ Brian then immediately takes back the comment by saying he is ‘kidding’.”
Ratcliffe also notes: “Gabby was told about witnesses that reported Brian had hit her. Gabby responded, ‘to be honest, I definitely hit him first.’ Gabby said she had slapped Brian a couple of times and Brian kept telling her to “shut up.” Gabby said she hit Brian as ‘I was trying to get him to stop telling me to calm down.’ Gabby said Brian reacted by grabbing her arm, ‘so I wouldn’t slap him.’ Officer Pratt asked if Brian only “grabbed” her and she said, ‘yeah.’ Officer Pratt then asked, ‘did he hit you though?’ Gabby replied saying, ‘I guess but I hit him first’.”
“Based on testimonial evidence, the physical evidence, there was nothing that could be done other than cite Gabby or arrest Gabby,” says Ratcliffe.
Ratcliffe mentions in his investigation, Officer Pratt has 16 years of law enforcement experience while Robbins was training under Pratt with no prior experience. Robbins, eventually told Petito that she wasn’t going to be charged for domestic violence and instead separated the couple for the night.
“It’s a reflection of how complicated violence is, and the need for training and the need for collaboration and continued partnership and really understanding the dynamics of domestic violence,” says Jennifer Campbell, the Executive Director for the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.
Moab city officials say the city has approved funding for equipment and virtual reality technology from AXON, which places officers into high-stress situations for training in de-escalation and various scenarios. The city says the police department is also hosting a training program with Fair and Impartial Policing, a company that develops implicit-bias-awareness training program in February.
If you are going through any form of domestic violence, Ratcliffe suggests reporting it immediately to close friends, family and your local police department.
The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition also has a hotline, 1-800-897-5465.
For the full report by Ratcliffe, click here.