The same day she was interviewed by police officers over a domestic disturbance call, lawyers for Gabby Petito‘s family claim she took a photo of herself with facial injuries.
Petito, 22, and her fiancé Brian Laundrie, 23, were stopped by police on Aug. 12, 2021, while they travelled through Utah as part of a cross-country road trip. Officers from the Moab City Police Department confronted the couple after a witness reported they’d seen Laundrie strike Petito outside a grocery store.
The newly released photo was shared as part of a lawsuit filed by Petito’s parents Nichole Schmidt and Joe Petito in November. They are suing the Moab City Police Department for negligence in investigating claims of domestic violence.
In the photo, allegedly taken in the back of her van on Aug. 12, Petito is seen with skin lacerations and what appears to be blood smeared across her nose, cheek, undereye and eyelid. She looks to be wearing the same shirt that she had on when she and Laundrie were approached by police.
“I believe she knew she was in trouble and that this crossed the line and she took that picture in the back of the van,” Brian C. Stewart, a lawyer for the Petito parents, told People magazine.
The family’s lawyers claim the data attached to the photo revealed it was taken at 4:37 p.m., shortly before the encounter with Moab police.
In bodycam footage released by police last year, Petito said she hit Laundrie first. She added that Laundrie “gets frustrated with me a lot.”
Petito’s parents argue in the lawsuit that she showed officers her injuries but was ignored.
After a short investigation, police did not issue a domestic violence citation. The lawsuit claims police determined Petito was the instigator of violence.
The Petito parents are pursuing the wrongful death lawsuit because they believe their daughter would still be alive if police had properly handled the investigation.
Stewart said, as per CNN, that the photo shows Petito “was grabbed over her face in such a way that her airways were likely obstructed.”
He continued: “Gabby documented the injury and, during the stop, attempted to tell the Moab officers, however, the seriousness and significance of this type of assault and injury was completely ignored.”
The Moab City Police Department said that it “does not comment on matters related to active litigation,” but the authority has previously denied any responsibility for Petito’s death.
Petito was killed by Laundrie only weeks after the Moab police encounter. Her body was found on the edge of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming on Sept. 19, 2021. She had been strangled.
Laundrie was the only individual ever identified by law enforcement as a person of interest. After a nationwide search for Laundrie, he was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The contrast between the cheerful façade on display on Petito’s widely followed Instagram account — where she chronicled her cross-country trip in a van to tens of thousands of followers — and the darker reality of domestic violence she was experiencing in the lead-up to her death captivated millions and sparked an unprecedented national conversation about dating violence.
It also brought criticism of authorities and the news media for focusing more attention on missing white women like Petito than on missing and murdered Indigenous women and women of colour.
Petito’s parents sued the parents of Laundrie for emotional distress in a separate lawsuit, claiming they had knowledge that Petito was dead, but did not tell anyone. In November, they were awarded US$3 million in the wrongful death lawsuit.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of intimate partner violence or is involved in an abusive situation, please visit the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime for help. They are also reachable toll-free at 1-877-232-2610.
— With files from The Associated Press