Expert Says Gabby Petito Police Footage Raises 'Alarm Bells' About Domestic Abuse: 'Victim Self-Blaming'

Dr. Ziv Cohen says Brian Laundrie's "behavior doesn't match the situation in terms of the level of concern you would expect a partner to show"

When police released body camera footage of an Aug. 12 incident between Gabby Petito and fiancé Brian Laundrie, it was an candid look into a relationship gone awry.

In the footage, Moab, Utah, police officers responded to a reported domestic dispute between the couple in Arches National Park. Petito was last seen alive about two weeks later.

In the footage, Petito appears highly agitated and admits to striking Laundrie. She also says she has obsessive compulsive disorder and blames her condition, in part for sparking the fight.

Police classified the incident as "disorderly conduct" rather than domestic violence, and determined Petito was the aggressor. But information that has come to light since then belies this assessment.

An eyewitness who called 911 to report the incident told the dispatcher Laundrie had been slapping Petito.

Gabby Petito
Gabby Petito. Uncredited/AP/Shutterstock

Another eyewitness, who provided a written statement, told police he saw the couple in the middle of "some sort of dispute" and that "something definitely didn't seem right."

That witness also said it appeared Laundrie was possibly trying to lock Petito out of the van and take her phone.

Cornell University forensic psychiatrist Dr. Ziv Cohen reviewed the footage for PEOPLE in its latest issue. While he has never met or treated Petito or Laundrie, he was able to use his experience to observe the couple's body language and demeanor — and make a speculative assessment on their relationship.

For exclusive interviews and details on the Gabby Petito case, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week's issue, on newsstands Friday.

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"When you look at the discrepancy between the two of them, it does raise alarm bells about a potential domestic abuse situation," Cohen says.

"One of the things I think that's interesting is that they do try to separate Gabby from him and interview her," Cohen continues. "And when they do that, she proceeds to just blame herself for the incident, but appearing quite scared and not really being able to explain how the incident began. That seems to fit the profile of a domestic abuse situation, where you have the victim self-blaming and trying to protect the abuser."

During the incident, Petito told officers she was having a panic attack. "She's upset and scared," Cohen tells PEOPLE. "She's looking at the other officer and nodding almost like a little child nods when you're trying to calm them down. She doesn't seem to be reassured."

Cohen notes the difference between the demeanor of Petito and Laundrie.

Gabby Petito, Brian Laundrie
Gabby Petito, Brian Laundrie. Find Gabby/Facebook

"On the other hand, he is very calm," Cohen says. "And he just doesn't seem to be particularly forthcoming, at last not from what I saw in the footage. His behavior doesn't match the situation in terms of the level of concern you would expect a partner to show towards his girlfriend."

Police determined Petito drove Laundrie to a hotel alone, advising the couple cool off for the night — a decision that Dr. Cohen says may not have been in Petito's best interests.

"He's sent to a hotel room for his protection," Cohen says. "But she's the one saying that she has mental health issues. She's very upset; she can't calm herself down. She identifies herself as not being competent in terms of caring for herself, like being able to drive. They're on a road trip in the middle of Wyoming. So I find it distressing because I think it was not meeting the needs of the situation."

If you have information on this case, call 1-­800-­CALL-­FBI (225­-5324).

If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.

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