FIRST ON FOX: Eric Pratt, one of the Moab police on scene following a report last year that Brian Laundrie was seen hitting Gabby Petito on the crossroads city’s main street, has the praise and support of the city’s new police chief, who was brought in to clean up the department.
"He’s actually, frankly, an outstanding employee," Moab Police Chief Jared Garcia, who joined the department long after the Petito case, told Fox News Digital.
The chief said he could not comment specifically on Aug. 12 domestic violence due to pending litigation filed by her family earlier this month. But he praised Pratt’s performance in regard to the rest of his duties.
"At least in the time that I’ve been here, I’ve been extremely pleased with his effort and his competency," Garcia said.
Pratt is an experienced cop, who in a 2019 podcast interview said he served as the police chief in Salina, a small town in central Utah, and as a corrections officer.
He was also one of two officers at the heart of an independent investigation into the Moab Police Department’s handling of a domestic violence call involving Laundrie and Petito just two weeks before her murder in Wyoming. There were also two U.S. Park Rangers on scene.
Laundrie was the FBI’s only suspect in her death and left a handwritten confession.
A witness reported seeing Laundrie slapping and hitting Petito and struggling with her over her phone and her van outside the Moonflower Co-op, an organic grocery store in the middle of town. Another officer, Daniel Robbins, pulled the couple over just outside town in the entranceway to Arches National Park.
Laundrie slammed the vehicle into the curb and later blamed the crash on Petito, claiming she’d interfered with his control of the steering wheel.
Pratt, a more experienced officer, joined Robbins on scene and helped interview the couple. The exchanges were caught on both officers’ bodycams.
At one point, Pratt prophetically warned that Utah state law requires officers to arrest or cite someone in all domestic violence responses – because not doing so can be deadly.
"You know why the domestic assault code is there. It's there to protect people," Pratt says. "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 officers wound up chalking down the incident as a "mental break" and not domestic violence – and split the couple up for the night.
The massive national attention paid to Petito’s subsequent death prompted an outside investigation into the Moab incident, conducted by Price City Police Capt. Brandon Ratcliffe.
He faulted the officers for "unintentional mistakes" and issued recommendations on how the department should move forward. Despite multiple requests from Fox News Digital, Moab officials have not provided any evidence that any of Ratcliffe’s recommendations had been followed.
A Moab spokesperson has maintained that the city cannot comment on the domestic violence call due to pending litigation brought by Petito’s parents, who filed a notice of claim earlier this month seeking $50 million in damages and alleging that Moab police negligence led to the young woman’s death.
But city leaders did hire Garcia three months ago to move the department forward.
"I’m very confident we’re gonna be on a really good path here, we already are, within the next year," Garcia told Fox News Digital. "I feel really great about where we’re gonna be."
Brian Stewart, an attorney at the law firm Parker & McConkie, which is representing her parents in the lawsuit, said that it is the family’s goal for the department to implement changes that will protect future victims.
"The family hopes that Officer Pratt is committed to learning from his experience and the mistakes that were made in Gabby’s case," he said last week. "We hope he has received significant retraining in how to properly respond to domestic violence situations and how to apply the law correctly to protect victims, like Gabby."
If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.