Did Police Fail to Protect Gabby Petito?

Could mandatory arrest laws in cases of domestic violence have prevented the murder of Gabby Petito? Would increasing vigilance in handling domestic violence prevent further cases of intimate partner violence? We recently dropped a podcast on this here. We discuss the case and address these questions in this article.

Scary Statistics

Almost one third of female homicides are committed by intimate partners, as reported by domesticshelters.org. Another alarming fact is that 22 percent of officer deaths occurred while responding to domestic violence calls. Because of these disturbing statistics, domestic violence is one of the largest growing divisions in law enforcement offices. Since the Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994, many departments have added whole departments dedicated to domestic violence cases. Before that, the standard anecdotal procedure would have been for police to make a visit and advise the couple to “take a walk around the block.” Now, many states have mandatory arrest laws, requiring police to make an arrest of the primary aggressor in the conflict.

Gabby Identified as the Aggressor

Many of the millions of viewers of the bodycam video of Gabby and Brian’s traffic stop have expressed their own feelings as to whether law enforcement handled the stop correctly. Could the police have prevented her murder? This seems to be the million dollar question. We now know that two 911 calls came in from people who witnessed the couple slapping or hitting each other. In one case, Gabby appeared to be slapping Brian. In the second case, Brian was seen slapping Gabby, perhaps multiple times. It is unclear whether the police knew about both calls, however they deem Gabby the primary aggressor because of her immediate confession that she had slapped Brian. Brian had scratches on his face which he admitted were from Gabby. In Utah, there is a mandatory arrest law. This would mean that since the police identified Gabby as the primary aggressor, they technically should have taken her into custody.

Police Make the Call

Now, should the police have arrested Gabby? Even though Gabby is considered the primary aggressor, the police declared the situation a “mental health crisis” because of Gabby’s admitted OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Should the police have arrested Brian? There was evidence in the 911 call of Brian having hit Gabby, but no physical evidence of violence was visible on her. Both parties said they did not want to have the other arrested. Although passivity and denial are common behaviors for domestic violence victims, in this case and many others, it is difficult to tease out the complexity of the situation in just one encounter. 

Looking to the Future

Police response to domestic violence cases is an evolving and growing area within law enforcement. Although we have come a long way in addressing intimate partner violence, it seems that there is still room for improvement. If you or a loved one is involved in a Domestic Violence case in Colorado, give us a call, we can help.


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