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NORTH PORT — A police captain investigating how authorities in Moab, Utah, handled the 911 call involving Gabrielle Petito and Brian Laundrie in the days before her killing says the officers made "several unintentional mistakes" in their encounter with the couple.

The investigation stated officers misclassified the incident as "disorderly conduct" and should have considered it a domestic violence matter. 

The report recommends policy changes and additional training for Moab officers, and called for the two patrolmen involved to be placed on probation for an unspecified time.

Capt. Brandon Ratcliffe, of the Price Police Department, conducted the investigation and presented his investigation to the city of Moab, which released his report and a summary this week.

Price, Utah, is about 115 miles north of Moab.

The investigation included questions submitted by attorney Tanya Reeves, who made a formal complaint about the way officers Eric Pratt and Daniel Robbins behaved as they tried to resolve the situation during their Aug. 12 traffic stop of Laundrie and Petito.

Despite a 911 caller telling police dispatchers that Laundrie slapped Petito on a Moab street, and officers seeing scratches and marks on both people involved, the patrolmen did not make a domestic violence arrest.

Instead, they told the two to separate for the night, finding a motel room for Laundrie, and allowing Petito to stay with her converted Ford Transit van, in which the couple had been traveling. Police considered arresting Petito, because she said she hit and scratched Laundrie, but decided against it.

Petito's family said they lost contact with Gabrielle Petito a few days after the incident, and filed a missing persons report Sept. 11. Authorities found her body about 500 miles away in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, a week later. A medical examiner said her body had been there for a few weeks, and she had been strangled to death by a person facing her.

After an extensive search, investigators found the partial remains of Laundrie's body and personal items in a remote, swampy area near the North Port entrance to the Mabry T. Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve on Oct. 21. His death was ruled a suicide, a gunshot wound to the head.

In the meantime, the story of Gabby Petito's disappearance went worldwide as social media and traditional media reported the story.

'KINDNESS, RESPECT'

During the first week of the search for both Petito and Laundrie, the Moab Police Department released a report and then a video of its officers' encounter with the couple. Ratcliffe was assigned to the investigation Sept. 27, days before Reeves filed her complaint on Oct. 1.  

"The independent agency’s investigative report finds that the officers who responded to the incident made several unintentional mistakes that stemmed from the fact that officers failed to cite Ms. Petito for domestic violence," the report states. "Based on the report’s findings, the city of Moab believes our officers showed kindness, respect and empathy in their handling of this incident."

The report notes Officer Daniel Robbins, who was the lead officer on the investigation, was hired in May 2021, about three months before the incident. His field training officer, Eric Pratt, had been with the department "intermittently" since 2018, first as a part-time officer, then at full-time. 

Ratcliffe concluded the officers violated several Utah and Moab codes involving domestic violence incidents. These involve not giving the two hand-outs about resources to help domestic violence victims to not forwarding a report of the case to prosecutors. 

The report states the officers should have interviewed the 911 caller as part of their investigation, and recommends that police conduct the interview - despite the time that has elapsed and the media attention that focused on the case. The officers did speak with someone else who had seen a fight between the two in Moab.

Ratliffe reported that experience has shown that a person who may appear to be the "predominant aggressor" in a domestic violence situation may in fact be the victim. 

"Based on the information provided, I can only assume the act of Brian grabbing Gabby’s face, was his attempt to 'make' Gabby calm down or 'make' her shut up," the report states. "Although the act of grabbing someone’s face, like in this case, rarely causes any significant injury, I find that the specific act of grabbing someone’s face is extremely personal, violent, and controlling."

However, Ratcliffe continues, "Just because there may have been some signs that Brian was the long-term predominant aggressor, law enforcement could only act on the information they were provided."

Both Pratt and Robbins said they should have handled the situation differently, in hindsight.

"We’re all doing this with the fact in our mind that we know what happened later," Ratcliffe quoted Pratt as saying. "So, it’s really convoluted and hard to tell you like anything other than what I thought at the time which was if I missed a big red flag that he was a murderer, then yes I missed it…. if I would have known he was going to murder her, I would have taken vacation to follow them, because I care about people, to the point where he was going to murder her…, and I would have intervened and citizens arrested him in Wyoming! I would have taken my own time; I would have missed my family to go do that. I’m desperately f-----d over that she got killed. I really am. I would have done anything to stop it if I would have known that was coming.”

Robbins also said he accepted his responsibility for the situation.

“But I don’t want anyone to think that I did not care," he said. "I have daughters, and I do want anyone involved to know that I talked to Gabby and I treated Gabby as much like I could, fatherly, the way I would want another cop to interact with my daughter, even if he got it wrong. I do care. I am devastated about it. I cared that day and I still care. I don’t think the public gets that we….I don’t know if they know we care. I don’t know if they know."

RECOMMENDATIONS

The report recommends the department:

• Provide additional training in domestic violence investigation, as well as additional legal training to ensure officers understand state laws and statutes; conducting an overall policy review

• Conduct a software review. This is due to missing photos that officers took during their encounter with Laundrie and Petito. Video shows the officers taking photos, but both said the photos were missing when they filed their reports.

• Strengthening the review process for incident reports.

"The city intends to implement the report’s recommendations," the report states.

The report also notes that Radcliffe, who investigated the case, had unlimited time to investigate while the officers at the scene had only 75 minutes with the people involved. 

"There is a lot of speculation regarding this incident and I can’t answer the 'what-if' questions," Ratliffe states in his conclusion. "There were mistakes made in how this case was handled. If this case was handled flawlessly, would it have changed anything? Nobody knows.

"More and more in law enforcement, perfection is what is being expected and with that comes officers second guessing themselves and their decisions.

"After reviewing all the information and speaking with the officers, I am confident and comfortable in stating the mistakes that were made were not made intentionally. The officers did not know what they were doing was wrong at the time and did not make the decision to benefit themselves in any way. They both believed at the time they were making the right decision based on the totality of the circumstances that were presented.

"The Moab Police Department and specifically, Officer Pratt and Officer Robbins, are responsible for their actions or lack thereof as it pertains to this investigation. However, I find it difficult to assign responsibility to anyone other than the person or persons directly responsible for Gabby’s death, weeks after and several hundred miles away from their August 12th incident in Moab."

This article originally ran on yoursun.com.

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