The former Moab City police chief has addressed criticism of the police response to an incident involving Gabby Petito and Brian Laundry not long before Petito was found dead of a reported homicide.
On Thursday, authorities in Utah announced an internal review of the response to what appears to be multiple reports of a domestic dispute between the young couple on August 12. Officers who stopped Laundrie and Petito interviewed them separately and took a statement from one witness, and determined from this information that Petito was the aggressor. She was not charged, and the officers required that the pair separate for the night, arranging a hotel room for Laundrie while Petito took the converted camper van the couple had been traveling in. It remains unknown exactly when or where Petito and Laundrie reunited. Petito’s body was found in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming on Sunday, and a medical examiner determined that the manner of death was homicide.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, there was a second witness to the initial August 12 incident outside an organic food-coop in Moab. The 911 call recording shows the witness telling a dispatcher that Laundrie was hitting Petito. It remains unclear if and when Moab City Police became aware of the contents of that 911 call, but one officer at the later scene referenced a second witness in the body cam footage, admitting that he had no spoken to that witness yet.
“Both an independent witness, probably the next one we’re going to talk to as well, which we haven’t talked to yet, but one we did talk to, and your own family [gesturing toward Petito] have made it clear that she was the primary aggressor,” the officer says to Laundrie in the body cam footage. At other points in the footage, officers tell Laundrie that he is the victim.
Moab City Police Chief Jim Winder, who retired from the department in 2019, defended the responding officers in an interview with KSL-TV.
“In that context the officers did an excellent job, from my experience,” Winder said. “They arrived. Immediately separated these two folks. They treated them with dignity, respect and compassion.”
Winder did not directly address the second witness interview that may not have been part of the responding officers’ assessment.
“People ascribing particular psychological traits to Mr. Laundrie and Ms. Petito from a video, indicating that had one path been taken versus another… had they arrested someone, no one would have ever died. These are interesting topics of conversation but they’re not real,” Winder said.
“We have to begin to treat these officers with dignity and respect and allow some process to take place before we vilify or make judgements about their actions,” he continued. “Being on that street is different than being at home in your armchair and reviewing these video tapes.”
Authorities are continuing a search for Laundrie in a Florida nature preserve after the FBI issued an arrest warrant on Thursday. Laundrie is accused of accessing over $1,000 in funds from financial accounts that do not belong to him. He was named a person of interest in Petito’s disappearance, but has not been named a suspect in her murder.
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