Utah’s domestic violence laws and the actions of the Moab Police Department are facing fresh scrutiny Friday as newly obtained bodycam footage is revealing more about the violent fight between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie in Utah on Aug. 12.
A nearly hourlong video obtained by Fox News on Thursday night shows Gabby Petito telling Moab Police Officer Eric Pratt that Laundrie hit her before she seemingly backtracked and claimed she struck first.
The response ended without an arrest, and Laundrie stayed at a hotel that night, according to a police report. The couple continued on their van trip until Petito was found dead in Wyoming on Sept. 19, while Laundrie – a person of interest in her homicide and subject of a federal arrest warrant alleging debit card fraud – remains on the run.
Brett Tolman, a former U.S. attorney for Utah – and other critics on social media — are questioning whether police should have done more while responding to the incident on Aug. 12.
Moab Police Officer Eric Pratt, in bodycam footage released by investigators, is seen speaking to Brian Laundrie on Aug. 12. (Moab City Police Department)
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“Now they have an objective eyewitness, dispatch and Gabby herself saying that Brian hit her,” Tolman told Fox News after the new bodycam footage surfaced. “Why they didn’t take him into custody is mind-boggling. I understand that hindsight is 20/20, but this is an absolute failure to properly assess the moment and make a proper decision based upon the facts and the law.”
Moab Assistant Chief of Police Braydon Palmer, when asked by Fox News on Friday to respond to the way Pratt handled the incident, said, “We are unable to comment further at this point in time.”
He cited an ongoing investigation the city has initiated into the department’s handling of the Petito-Laundrie fight, adding that “it is important to us to ensure that the integrity of that investigation is maintained and due process for those involved is protected.”
In Utah, the “primary duty of law enforcement officers responding to a domestic violence call is to protect the victim and enforce the law,” its state legislature says.
“When a peace officer responds to a domestic violence call and has probable cause to believe that an act of domestic violence has been committed, the peace officer shall arrest without a warrant or shall issue a citation to any person that the peace officer has probable cause to believe has committed an act of domestic violence,” it continues.
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The law also says that “if a law enforcement officer receives complaints of domestic violence from two or more opposing persons, the officer shall evaluate each complaint separately to determine who the predominant aggressor was. If the officer determines that one person was the predominant physical aggressor, the officer need not arrest the other person alleged to have committed domestic violence.”
In Pratt’s bodycam footage obtained by Fox News, he is heard asking fellow responding officer Daniel Robbins, “How far do you want to go with this? “
“You know why the domestic assault code is there. It’s there to protect people,” Pratt continued. “The reason why they don’t give us discretion on these things is because too many times women at risk want to go back to their abuser, they just wanted him to stop, they don’t want to have to be separated, they don’t want him to be charged, they don’t want him to go to jail and then they end up getting worse and worse treatment and end up getting killed.”
“The reason why they don’t give us discretion on these things is because too many times women at risk want to go back to their abuser, they just wanted him to stop, they don’t want to have to be separated, they don’t want him to be charged, they don’t want him to go to jail and then they end up getting worse and worse treatment and end up getting killed.”
— Moab Police Officer Eric Pratt
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In a 2019 podcast, Pratt said he once worked as a corrections officer for the state of Utah and was the police chief of Salina, which has a population of around 2,500, until the end of 2017.
“When I left Salina I was trying to quit law enforcement for good, and I made it about eight or nine months before I went back,” he said during his appearance on the “Books in Heinessight” podcast. “There is not a lot of job opportunities outside of law enforcement in central Utah.”
Pratt then mentioned during the show that “I’m trying again to transition out of the career of law enforcement – not because it’s not a respectable career and it’s not that I don’t respect the work that law enforcement does, but at some point in my life my heart – I fell out of love with it, if that makes sense.”
As for his handling of the Petito-Laundrie incident, the city of Moab said in a statement last week that its police department “has clear standards for officer conduct during a possible domestic dispute and our officers are trained to follow those standards and protocol.”
“At this time, the City of Moab is unaware of any breach of Police Department policy during this incident,” it added.
But since the announcement of the investigation, Moab Police Chief Bret Edge has taken a leave of absence.
If you or anyone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or text “START” to 88788.
Fox News’ Michael Ruiz contributed to this report.