NORTH PORT, Fla. — Authorities dropped the ball by letting the boyfriend of missing Long Island native Gabby Petito slip through their fingers — even though he was the sole person of interest in her disappearance, law enforcement experts told The Post Sunday.
Brian Laundrie, 23, took off from his North Port, Florida, home on Tuesday, saying he was going go for a hike and never returned, his parents said.
But they didn’t tell cops he was missing until three days later.
“They should’ve immediately placed him under surveillance,” said Ed Gavin, an expert in missing person cases and former acting chief of the New York City Administration for Children’s Services. “Immediately.”
“They should’ve been all over him,” Gavin added. “The fact that they let him out of their sight, that’s a no-no. Time is of the essence with these investigations.”
Petito was last seen late last month, while Laundrie returned home in her 2012 white Ford Transit van on Sept. 1, immediately lawyering up and keeping mum about his beau’s disappearance.
The missing woman’s mom, Nichole Schmidt, reported her daughter missing to Suffolk County cops on Sept. 11.
Experts who spoke with The Post agreed police didn’t have enough probable cause to obtain a search warrant or bring Laundrie in for questioning, but they suggested there were missteps in what’s now a multi-state investigation.
“I think what I would do if I was running the investigation is ask for permission to [look at Schmidt’s phone] because you don’t want to alienate the family, you want to do it in as cooperative a way as possible,” former veteran FBI agent Oliver Farache said.
“You want to look at the phone, see if anything was deleted, see exactly what kind of conversation they were having and looking at the whole thing, not just the last few days,” Farache said. “And the history of the texts that mom exchanged and dad as well will give you a clue into the missing person’s mental state as well.”
One retired NYPD detective said keeping tabs on Laundrie was a no-brainer.
“You always have to try to build a case and if it means surveillance to see where he’s going or what he’s doing … then you do that,” the ex-cop said. “You don’t need a search warrant to surveil somebody.”
Asked at a press briefing last week if police had done a forensic examination of Schmidt’s phone, North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison said they had not. Garrison also said investigators suspected no criminality — and was treating the probe as a missing persons case.
While North Port remains the lead agency in the investigation, the FBI headed the search for Petito at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, where she told her parents she was headed the last time they spoke.
According to reports, the search did not get underway until the middle of last week — some four days after Petito was reported missing — with the FBI, national park rangers and local authorities combing a large swath of the park.
On Sunday, the FBI said remains “consistent” with the description of Petito, 22, were found at Bridger-Teton National Forest and that her family had been notified. A cause of death has not yet been determined.
As the search for Laundrie in Florida’s sprawling Carlton Reserve continued Sunday, North Port police spokesman Josh Taylor lashed out at critics of how the case is being handled.
“These guys are full of s–t,” Taylor told The Post. “We have a missing person case and we don’t have anyone to talk to and we don’t have any evidence of a crime on a case that’s outside our jurisdiction.”
“This guy goes for a hike in a 25,000-acre nature reserve. How are we following him? I’m up for anybody’s idea,” he said, adding that the FBI should also be grilled on why Laundrie wasn’t being more closely surveilled.
The FBI’s Denver office responded to an inquiry from The Post Sunday by referring to its Twitter.
“When we have any updates or requests for assistance from the public, we will share that information in a timely manner,” the agency tweeted Saturday. “We appreciate your cooperation and support as we work to bring Gabby home. #FindGabby”
Suffolk County police, who initially received the missing person report, referred all questions to North Port cops, “as they are the lead.”