INVESTIGATORS with the small Florida police department that led the search for Brian Laundrie should've tailed him when they saw him leave home days before he was reported missing, an ex-detective says.
Landrie's skeletal remains were found inside a swampy stretch of land in Myakkahatchee Creek Park on October 20, more than five weeks after the 23-year-old vanished from his parents' home in North Port on September 13.
His disappearance came just two days after his fiance Gabby Petito – with whom he'd recently been on a cross-country road trip -was reported missing by her mother in New York.
Investigators with the North Port Police Department watched Brian leave home in his silver Ford Mustang on Sept. 13 through hidden cameras they'd secretly planted around the property.
Two days later, they thought they saw him return in the same car.
However, on Sept. 17, Brian's parents reported him missing. They said he'd told them he was going hiking four days earlier – the day police watched him leave – in the nearby Carlton Reserve but never returned home.
Police later realized that it was, in fact, Roberta Laundrie, Brian's mother, who they had seen get out from the fugitive's Mustang on Sept. 15.
Officials said the fact she was wearing a baseball cap and is "built similarly" to Brian was the cause of the confusion.
North Point Police Chief Todd Garrison put the mistake down to "human error", calling it a common mishap in surveillance operations while insisting it had no significant impact on the outcome of the case.
But a former NYPD homicide detective told The Sun that the misidentification amounts to "incompetence", adding that police should have tailed Laundrie when they saw him leave.
"Anything that Brian laundry would have been doing after he arrived at home would have probably been suspicious," the retired cop said, speaking on grounds of anonymity.
"He's not going to the local taqueria, and he's not going to the game room to play video games – anything he's doing this thing is probably working towards his defence and his protection."
He continued: "So if you're already doing surreptitious surveillance, why wouldn't you just follow them just to follow? So when you've got that first car and that car leaves on the 13th Why didn't you follow it? Who cares if they saw."
The retired cop said investigators could've either overtly or covertly followed Brian, explaining the advantages of each.
"It depends on what the objectives [of the investigation] are because sometimes when you follow people covertly, sometimes they make a mistake and trip themselves up.
"And so sometimes you want to be overt so that under pressure, they do something stupid.
"I would have covertly followed him in the hope that he would go back to the body or dump evidence into a trash bin or, or go connect with somebody who's helping him through things."
The ex-detective said surveillance operations can be difficult and "it's not like TV."
To comprehensively survey a suspect, investigators need a wealth of resources that may not have been available to North Port PD, he said.
"When you're really following somebody, you usually takes multiple cars to do it so that you're not detected because let's face it for you to stay close enough to somebody to be able to actually track where they've gone is not going to take long for somebody who's paying attention to figure out they're being followed," the cop said.
"So surveillances are really hardly any less you're willing to say so since you want to follow people and you don't care if they know that you're following.
"The only legitimate excuse for that is to say, ‘but we just didn't have the resources, so we’re just tracking his comings and goings.’"
PROBE POTENTIALLY HINDERED
The cop added that under no circumstances should they have presumed it was Brian that they saw return home on Sept. 15. If they had even the slightest of doubts, they should've worked to "100 percent verify", he said.
"I'm sorry, but as a police officer, if I see a body get out of a car and walk into a house and it's got a hat on and it's kind of, you know, protected if I couldn't say 100% for sure that that was my subject. Then I would have to pivot on that and do something different [to verify their identity].
"You can’t just presume the operator of that car is Brian Laundrie, even though I can't really see him, I'm just going to assume it's him – that's so incompetent," he said.
The Sun's source said while it's unclear how much of an impact the misidentification of Brian may have had on the case, it definitely impacted the outcome in some way.
"That's two days, 48 hours of work that just wasn't happening," he said, adding that they may have recovered crucial items of evidence near to where Brian's body was found that may have since been destroyed by the elements.
"I would like to think that nobody is sitting around waiting for something to happen there," he added. "There are also multiple parallel strategies going on, towards trying to develop information intelligence and gather evidence."
POLICE CHIEF CLAIMS 'HUMAN ERROR'
During an event in Venice last Friday, North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison defended his officers over the mishap, putting it down to "human error."
"By the time we became the lead agency, Brian had already left the house and presumably had already been deceased out in the Carlton Reserve,” Garrison said.
“We are out there in the public for making a human error; the surveillance team told me 'Chief, Brian was seen going inside the house.'
“Later on, we found out that Brian had left the house and now the parents on Friday wanted to report him missing,” Garrison said. “There was nobody more surprised about that than me.
“In fact, when my officers went out to the house to do the report with the FBI, I sat with the deputy chief in my office, hoping that they would find Brian hiding in a back bedroom,” he said. “I was hoping, maybe it was a ploy. It wasn't.”
Garrison said he stands by the efforts of the investigators who made the bizarre mistake.
“As a 30-year (law enforcement) veteran, doing surveillance, this is not uncommon and if any expert out there says it is, they’re lying to you,” Garrison said.
“I can tell you one thing, the amount of work that was done, behind the scenes, 24 hours a day, from our team and the FBI team working on the second floor of the police department, was phenomenal work.
“That work led the search teams to locate Gabby Petito deceased," Garrison said. “I want to remind everyone: our primary focus the first couple of days was to find Gabby.
“If Brian did go on the run, he would be found; I was confident of that,” he continued. “People are making judgments on things that were discovered or learned over the last five weeks.
“We didn’t know a lot of this information over the first four days.”
He continued: "Yes, we made a mistake it was human error but I still stand behind my team.”
A cause, manner, and time of death for Brian is yet to be determined by investigators.
His remains were found in a grassy stretch of land in Myakkahatchee Creek Park, which is adjacent to Carlton Reserve, on October 20.
Also found was a notebook and backpack of Laundrie's.
The remains, which were described as "bones," were recovered from an area of the park that had, until recently, been submerged in storm waters.
An autopsy came back inconclusive last week. A forensic pathologist is now investigating Brian's remains, which are believed to consist only of a partial human skull and bones.
Brian and Gabby Petito had been on a cross-country road trip touring the US national parks when Gabby vanished in late August, two weeks after the couple was involved in a domestic violence dispute in Moab, Utah.
Petito's family last heard from her on August 27, receiving a text they characterized as "strange" before Gabby's phone was switched off for good.
Her body was found at a dispersed campsite near Grand Teton National Park, in Wyoming, on September 19.
A coroner determined that she had been strangled to death by a "human force" some three to four weeks before she was found.
Brian has never been named a suspect in Gabby's death but is the sole person of interest in the case.
He was also wanted on bank fraud charges after allegedly racking up $1,000 in charges on a credit card belonging to Gabby in the days after she was killed.
An investigation into Brian's cause of death and Gabby's murder remains active and ongoing.
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