Could a Simple Domestic Battery Charge Have Saved Gabby Petito’s Life?

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By Tom Lemons NATIONAL – Tragedy struck the Northport, Florida family of 22-year-old Gabby Petito, after a massive search led to the discovery of Petito’s body in northwest Wyoming. Gabby and her fiancé Brian Laundrie left their home and embarked on a cross-country journey back in June, but something went terribly wrong in late August, and she was never heard from again. Now officials are in a desperate search for the fiancé, who officials say has all the answers to Petito’s death.
Prior to her disappearance, Petito and Laundrie were stopped by Utah police after witnesses observed them in a domestic dispute. Bodycam video shows the interaction between the couple and police, but despite visible injury and admissions from both that the dispute turned physical, officers decided not to charge either with a crime. “After evaluating the totality of the circumstances, I do not believe the situation escalated to the level of a domestic assault as much as that of a mental health crisis,” officer Daniel Robbins stated in his report. The couple was released, and it wasn’t long after that Petito was never heard from again. Now, many are questioning the decision by Utah Police not to make an arrest as a serious error in judgment that may have indirectly led to the chain of events that ultimately allowed for Petito to fall victim to her killer.
At least 33 states, including Utah, have mandatory arrest laws when evidence of a physical abuse occurs in domestic situations. Law enforcement officers in these states are supposed to arrest the person they believe is the primary aggressor in a domestic dispute or both in some situations. These laws have been scrutinized because law enforcement officers usually do not witness the incident, so verbal testimony and physical injury are some of the only ways an officer can determine who is possibly the offender. In some cases, the actual victim is arrested because the abuser intentionally inflicts injuries on themselves. Gender also plays a huge role when investigating domestic disputes, because domestic violence training suggests that men are almost always the abuser.
Utah state statute 77-36-2.2. reads:  Powers and duties of law enforcement officers to arrest — Reports of domestic violence cases — Reports of parties’ marital status.
(1)       The primary duty of law enforcement officers responding to a domestic violence call is to protect the victim and enforce the law.
(2)       (a)        In addition to the arrest powers described in Section 77-7-2, 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.
So, what led to officer’s decision not to make an arrest? Could it have been empathy for the couple and their circumstances or concern over making the wrong arrest? This is the dilemma most law enforcement officers are faced with while investigating domestic disputes. Placing that degree of discretion on a law enforcement officer who has little to no information about the people they are interviewing is like making them the judge and jury in a situation that may or not be life or death.
Ayo & Iken attorney and firm partner Jean Vogel says, “I personally think mandatory arrest is foolish and agree with the police de-escalating the situation the way they did- making sure they were separate for the night w/ Gabby staying in the van and her boyfriend in a hotel.” She goes on to say, “I do not feel there is a gender bias as I have seen leniency on both sides.”
Ayo & Iken Attorney Ernesto Cespedes had a slightly different take on the issue and says, “I believe gender has played a definite role in the decision of officers whether to arrest or not.” Cespedes has experience working in a domestic unit and says, “…the responding officer has a duty to investigate and should use his or her own better judgment observation and experience in order to make a determination. I worked with State Attorney Janet Reno – and for better or worse the responding officer has the ultimate decision-making responsibility when responding to a scene. I think a lot of police officers need better education on the subject and by the same token I think a lot of people get away with domestic violence by way of intimidation and coercion of that spouse that is the victim.”
Progressives are calling for more equality among people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community, but many say the one segment of society being left out in the cold are men and fathers. Despite domestic violence statistically an equal problem with all couples, regardless of race, gender or lifestyle, law enforcement officers and judiciaries are being trained to believe men are, by default, the primary aggressor in 90% of domestic violence cases. Could this erroneous indoctrination be creating so much confusion that discretion has become a liability for public servants?
We presented the question to some of our social media followers, and they had this to say on how Utah Police handled the situation with Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie:
Karen Rivera
She should have been arrested. I believe they could have saved her life. Maybe her parents could have been aware of the situation and helped her out.
I believe that gender role plays a huge part on the this. Not saying boyfriend is guilty or innocent but what if she had the scratches? He would have been arrested. It doesn’t make any less of a crime if she does it.
RIP.
Linda Lewis
She would be alive today had the law been followed!
Juliana Jules
As a DV advocate I do not agree with mandatory arrest laws
in Gabby situation there were other red flags the officers should have picked up on and offered help had that been done I believe she would still be alive today.
LEO needs more training in DV
Nicole N Chacho
They both should have been arrested and maybe she would still be here to tell her story
Scott Diehm
I think this law should be enforced. She might have been guilty of a few scratches on the snowflake, what prompted her to hit him. Why did she say she suffers from OCD, in video? If the police had taken them both in, she might have been saved.
Lydia McLane
If anything, they should’ve taken Gabby for a psych eval, but we also don’t know if Brian provoked her to that point of looking and acting crazy. My ex would push me to the point of where I looked like the crazy one and he’d try to hold me and that’s how he would get marks on him because I didn’t want or need to be held at all, so I’d start to fight. The system did fail her cause she also stated she felt like he was going to leave her. And while she’s torn up and bursting in tears and panicking, he’s all happy and laughing like nothing.
Jennifer Fareri
Actually, there is a release of the 911 convo. The caller told the dispatcher that a male was slapping a female and they run up and down the sidewalk while the man was slapping the female and then got in the van and drove off. So, Gabby may not have been the aggressor and Brian would be the one who needed to be arrested.
Lisa Warden
If she had been arrested, I think the chances she would still be alive would be high. She might have called a parent for bail.
Cindy Shear
I have thought since I saw the body cam video that why wasn’t she arrested? I get he was making them separate for the night. But she was acting erratic and admitted to scratching and hitting him. Who knows it if would of saved her life, it would of Woken her up that is for sure. It’s a sad situation all around
The Federal Bureau of Investigation executed a search warrant Monday on the home of Brian Laundrie, while investigators searched 25,000-acre Carlton Reserve in Sarasota that has since concluded.

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