Why Virginia police employed ‘catfish’ cop Austin Lee Edwards

In a beforehand unreported letter obtained by The Occasions, the pinnacle of the Virginia State Police detailed errors in his company’s hiring of Austin Lee Edwards, the now-deceased “catfish” cop who killed three folks in Riverside in late November.

Though Edwards had instructed the company about his 2016 go to to a psychiatric facility, the company failed to look databases for his psychological well being historical past earlier than hiring him as an officer, Col. Gary Settle, the state police superintendent, wrote within the letter, which was addressed to a put up workplace field related to Virginia’s inspector basic.

Edwards left the state police after 9 months and joined the Washington County Sheriff’s Workplace as a deputy. He was employed there in November, when he drove to Riverside and killed the mom and grandparents of a 15-year-old lady whom police say he had “catfished” on-line.

Each regulation enforcement companies have confronted scrutiny for hiring Edwards and, on the request of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Virginia’s inspector basic is investigating the state police’s hiring of Edwards.

The Virginia State Police have blamed Edwards’ hiring on “human error” and an incomplete question of databases. However Settle’s memo gives many extra particulars about precisely what went incorrect.

Within the doc, dated Dec. 30, 2022, Settle confirmed that Edwards had disclosed his 2016 psychiatric keep, and blamed his hiring on the background investigator who dealt with his software. Though Edwards’ admission wouldn’t have been an “automatic disqualifier” by itself, he wrote, it was a missed “opportunity for clarification.”

“Unfortunately, the error allowed him to be employed, as there were no other disqualifiers,” Settle wrote.

The error was attributable to an arcane distinction within the search codes background investigators are supposed to make use of whereas screening aspiring cops, Settle wrote. The investigator who dealt with Edwards’ background test used a code for “applicants” and failed to incorporate one for “firearms,” which might have introduced up all Virginia psychological well being orders.

The proper question would have unearthed any “Virginia mental health orders if one exists,” Settle wrote. As The Occasions beforehand reported, Virginia psychological well being orders for Edwards existed on the time of his hiring.

Police information present that on Feb. 8, 2016, authorities handcuffed Edwards, strapped him to a stretcher and delivered him to a neighborhood hospital after he threatened to kill himself and his father. Later that day, a choose accredited a short lived detention order, and Edwards was transferred to a psychiatric facility. That order would have proven up in an accurate database question, regulation enforcement specialists instructed The Occasions.

Throughout Edwards’ psychiatric keep, one other choose barred him from buying, possessing or transporting firearms, in keeping with court docket information obtained by The Occasions. In response to the remedy order, Edwards agreed to voluntary admission for inpatient remedy for 72 hours, until launched earlier. He additionally was suggested that his gun rights had been revoked until restored by a court docket.

Proof that Edwards’ gun rights had been revoked must also have been accessible by the Virginia State Police throughout the time the company was contemplating his software. The clerk for the Bristol Normal District Court docket despatched the remedy order detailing the lack of Edwards’ gun rights to the Central Felony Information Alternate, a division of the state police, stated Alisa Padden, director of legislative and public relations for the Supreme Court docket of Virginia.

Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, didn’t instantly reply to an e mail asking whether or not the company nonetheless had the information.

Officers within the courts with jurisdiction over three recognized addresses for Edwards instructed The Occasions that they don’t have any proof that he ever petitioned for restoration of his gun rights.

All Virginia background investigators are skilled to seek for psychological well being orders however the investigator who dealt with Edwards’ software was “unaware of this requirement,” Settle wrote. The company’s inner investigation indicated that Edwards’ investigator was the one one who failed to question correctly.

The company believes the incident was “isolated” and has taken steps to protect in opposition to a repeat, Settle added. In the middle of the inner investigation final 12 months of Edwards’ hiring, “all past sworn employment records were reevaluated and no mental health orders or other disqualifiers were found,” he wrote.

The Virginia police plan to implement new hiring insurance policies, together with requiring background investigators and polygraph examiners to debate any related data from the polygraph or interviews, in keeping with the memo. The division will even revise the background investigation coverage handbook and develop coaching for investigators associated to psychological well being histories.

Investigators will now be required to interview all adults dwelling in the home with the applicant, no matter whether or not they have been listed as a reference.

Settle’s letter reveals how a lot his company’s story has modified within the months because the Riverside murders. Shortly after the killings, Geller, the state police spokeswoman, stated there weren’t “any indicators of concern” that surfaced throughout Edwards’ “extensive” hiring course of.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Workplace stated that it had contacted state police throughout his hiring course of and that state police didn’t disclose “any troubles, reprimands, or internal investigations pertaining to Edwards.”

The Occasions reported Sunday that Edwards had a historical past of grooming women on-line earlier than he was employed as a police officer. 1000’s of messages obtained by The Occasions confirmed that he solicited nude photographs from a woman — even after she instructed him she was 13.