The head of the Moab Police Department in Utah has taken a leave of absence from his post just days after the city announced an investigation into officers’ handling of a possible domestic violence case last month involving Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie.
Bret Edge chose to step away from his position as Moab Police Department Chief on Monday, requesting a leave of absence under the Family Medical Leave Act according to communications director for the City of Moab Lisa Church.
His decision was announced just one week after the city declared the launch of an independent investigation into their officers’ handling of a domestic dispute between Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito, just over a month before she was found dead.
They spoke out two days after a body found on September 19 in Grand Teton National Park was confirmed to be Petito, with a coroner ruling her death a homicide.
It was not made clear who will take up the position of police chief in Edge’s absence, nor when he would return to his post.
Neither Chief Edge nor Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus has yet responded to a request for comment, while communications director Lisa Church declined to answer further questions regarding the reason for Edge’s absence.
Bret Edge chose to step away from his position as Moab Police Department Chief on Monday, requesting a leave of absence under the Family Medical Leave Act
Moab City Police Department and the City of Moab have launched an investigation into officers’ handling of a domestic dispute between Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito a month before she was found dead in Wyoming
Police bodycam footage revealed the moment Utah cops asked missing ‘van-life’ woman Gabby Petito why she slapped her boyfriend Brian Laundrie in a dramatic incident 13 days before she disappeared on their cross-country trip
Laundrie is seen with scratches on his face which he tells an officer were caused when Petito ‘was trying to get the keys from me’ and ‘hit me with her phone’
City officials released a statement Thursday which said they were ‘unaware of any breach of Police Department policy.’
They noted that ‘individuals can view the same situation in very different ways’ and ‘recognize how the death of Ms. Petito more than two weeks later in Wyoming might lead to speculation, in hindsight, about actions taken during the incident in Moab.’
That statement noted that their ‘police officers have been both praised and criticized for their response and their resolution of the incident.’
Cops were filmed discussing what had happened with Petito and Laundrie after being called out by onlookers who reported seeing him hit her.
They found Laundrie with scratches to his face, with Petito claiming she’d hit him with a phone while battling her OCD.
Officers deemed her to be the ‘primary aggressor’ and separated the couple for the night to try and defuse the tension between them, but neither were arrested.
That has subsequently triggered allegations that investigating the incident more deeply might have saved Petito’s life, although other’s have countered by hailing the cops’ calm handling of the couple.
Moab City Police Chief Bret Edge explained in a statement provided to Fox News on Thursday that a request for an investigation into the department’s handling of the incident was requested by an outside party.
He said the department will ‘identify an unaffiliated law enforcement agency to conduct the formal investigation on our behalf.’
‘Should the investigation identify areas for improvement we will take that information to heart, learn from it, and make changes if needed to ensure we are providing the best response and service to our community,’ Edge added.
The recorded encounter began after a chilling 911 audio captured a caller in Utah reporting a domestic abuse incident involving Petito and Laundrie that claimed Laundrie slapped her.
In the audio, obtained by DailyMail.com, the male caller tells a Grant County sheriff that a ‘gentleman’ in a white van with a Florida license plate had slapped a girl in the vehicle before driving away.
The man also mentions the incident had happened ‘by Moonflower’ – likely referring to the Moonflower Community Cooperative in Moab, where Laundrie and Petito stayed the night of August 11 and where they reportedly were seen having an explosive fight.
‘I’m right in the corner of Main Street by Moonflower and we are driving and I’d like to report a domestic dispute. Florida with a white van – Florida license plate, white van,’ the man says before being interrupted by the officer, who asks him what he saw exactly.
‘They just drove off. They’re going towards Main Street. They made a right onto Main Street from Moonflower. We drove by him, a gentleman was slapping the girl,’ the man continues.
‘He was slapping her?’ the sheriff asks.
‘Yes. And then we stopped. They ran down an up the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car and they drove off,’ the man says as the audio ends.
When an officer asks Petito if her boyfriend hit her, she replies ‘I guess’ and gestures to her chin. Petito admits he ‘pushed her’ during the altercation
Moab police officers separated the couple for the night after responding to the 911 call. The City of Moab said they are ‘unaware of any breach of Police Department policy’ in their handling of Petito and Laundrie’s domestic dispute
Shortly after the call at 4:30 pm, Petito and Laundrie were filmed in police bodycam footage when they were stopped by Moab Police.
The bodycam footage shows an officer reporting that the driver of a vehicle ahead is showing ‘obscure driving’, driving 45mph in a 15mph road, and is ‘possibly intoxicated.’ He says the vehicle has bumped a curb and puts the sirens on. Petito later told officers that the couple didn’t drink.
The officer then gets out the vehicle and approaches the couple’s white camper van, which they have pulled over. The officer asks Petito to step out of the vehicle and takes her down the road, separating the couple to ask her what happened.
In the video, an emotional Petito tells officers with tears streaming down her face that she ‘was trying to get him [Laundrie] to stop telling [her] to calm down’ and admitting the couple had ‘been fighting all morning.’
In the bodycam footage from Moab officers, Petito says she suffers from OCD and anxiety, with both her and Laundrie saying she was stressed because of the YouTube blog they were working on to document the doomed cross-country trip.
The officer tells Petito she is ‘not in any trouble’ and escorts her to the back of the cop car so she can ‘take a breath’ and have ‘a few minutes.’
Laundrie is seen with scratches on his face and arm which he tells an officer were caused when Petito ‘was trying to get the keys from me’ and ‘hit me with her phone’.
He later said she was angry with him because of his dirty feet. When an officer asks Petito if her boyfriend hit her, she replies ‘I guess’ and makes a grabbing motion on her chin. Laundrie admits he ‘pushed her’ during the altercation.
The cops determine Petito was ‘the primary aggressor’ and say they are separating the couple for the night.
‘I am separating you two tonight, okay?’ the officer is heard telling Petito. The 22-year-old nods through tears in response and mouths ‘okay.’
‘I want you guys both to be tonight, away from each other,’ the officer says. ‘Relax, breathe, because there’s no need to be crying now,’ he tells Petito.
Petito nods and wipes tears from her eyes.
‘I understand that this can feel like a nightmare,’ the officer says. ‘But you have come out as the golden flower on top.’
According to the document, cops were called to a local business in Moab, Utah on August 12, after a witness reported seeing the couple ‘arguing over a phone’ outside their van
The couple had been traveling around the country in their camper van since early July to start a blog and were visiting Moab when they got into an altercation, an incident report reveals.
The report, released by the Moab Police Department on Wednesday, documented that the couple admitted they had been going through ‘issues’ over the last couple days.
According to the police incident report, a witness, identified only as Christopher, had reported seeing the pair ‘arguing over a phone.’
In his account, one of the responding officers Eric Pratt, wrote that ‘all three individuals’ – Petito, Laundrie, and the witness – gave ‘a similar and consistent story, consisting of the basic idea that the driver of the van, a male, had some sort of argument with the female.’
Pratt said both Petito and Laundrie said ‘they are in love and engaged to be married and desperately didn’t wish to see anyone charged with a crime.’
A Utah park ranger later revealed she warned Petito her relationship with Laundrie seemed ‘toxic’ after responding to the call.
Melissa Hulls, the visitor and resource protection supervisor at Arches National Park in Moab, said she was ‘imploring with [Petito] to reevaluate the relationship’ but that the 22-year-old didn’t understand ‘how big a deal this was.’
Park ranger Melissa Hulls (pictured) branded Gabby Petito’s relationship with Brian Laundrie ‘toxic’. Gabby is pictured, right, on August 12 – the day she chatted with Hulls
‘I can still hear her voice. She wasn’t just a face on the milk carton, she was real to me,’ she said.
She said she can remember Petito sobbing in the back of the police cruiser. Cops had already arrived at the scene by the time Hulls got there.
She said that as a female ranger, she has been trained to chat with women during suspected domestic abuse call outs to try and get them to relax and open up.
‘I was probably more candid with her than I should’ve been,’ Hulls said.
She told Petito that her and Laundrie’s relationship had the markings of a ‘toxic’ one.
‘I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life,’ she added.
An autopsy confirmed on Tuesday that the remains found near Grand Teton National Park last week belong to Petito. Her death was ruled a homicide but her cause of death is still under investigation.
Laundrie was named a person of interest in the case and has since been reported missing. FBI and North Point police continued the search for Laundrie in the Carlton Wildlife Reserve for the fifth day on Thursday.
His parents spent most of the day meeting with their attorney in Orlando.