On August 12th, police in Moab, Utah, responded to a domestic disturbance call in which witnesses had seen a man slapping a woman. The couple involved were Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie. Released bodycam footage shows Petito apologizing profusely to officers and admitting to scratching and hitting Laundrie. At the same time, Laundrie is seen chatting and joking with the officers questioning him. In their reports, these officers later wrote that Petito had been determined as the aggressor, though she was not charged. Instead, police asked the pair to separate for the evening with no apparent follow-up.
On September 11th, Petito’s family reported her missing after Laundrie returned to his family’s home in Florida without her. Eight days later, after an exhaustive search, Gabby Petito’s body was found in Grand Teton National Park. The public widely believes that Laundrie is responsible for her death, which was ruled a homicide. He is currently missing and believed to be on the run, prompting a nationwide search by multiple law enforcement agencies.
The bodycam footage of the August 12th incident convinced many viewers of Laundries’ involvement in Petito’s disappearance. However it also brings up the issue of how law enforcement handles domestic violence reports. While there is no way of knowing what happened between the two before police arrived, a 911 call from that day points the blame in the direction of Laundrie. The caller said of the incident: “the gentleman was slapping the girl.” Neither Laundrie nor Petito reported this to the police. And despite this call, Petito was declared the perpetrator, and Laundrie was offered (but denied) pressing charges.
The footage, in this case, proves how difficult it can be for observers to assess relationships and interactions. Ruth M. Glenn, the president of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), said the footage showed that officers did not seem to be “educated or trained or have had information about the dynamics of domestic violence.” Further stating that a huge red flag is Petito’s complete acceptance of blame contrasted with Laundries’ lack of admission. From the beginning, Petito claims responsibility for everything: from distracting Laundrie, causing him to hit a curb, to blaming her OCD for their fight. Another huge red flag is Petito’s extreme emotional state, while Laundrie remains almost eerily calm. Glenn claims that “Trained law enforcement probably would have assessed that deeper and more differently to understand what was really going on.”
Given how difficult it is to assess incidents of domestic violence and the outcome of this case, it is fair to say that better training and procedures are warranted. Experts analyzing the video have all concluded that key red flags were missed that could have led to more in-depth questioning or even Laundrie’s arrest. Better training may be necessary to help officers better assess situations and determine blame. And most importantly, to prevent what happened to Gabby from happening to other young women.