Virginia governor asks for probe into hiring of ‘catfishing’ cop who killed 3 in California

Virginia governor asks for probe into hiring of ‘catfishing’ cop who killed 3 in California

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has asked the state’s inspector general to investigate the Virginia State Police’s hiring of Austin Lee Edwards, the now-deceased cop who killed three family members of a 15-year-old Riverside girl he “catfished” online.

Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for Youngkin, confirmed Thursday that the inspector general will “undertake an independent and thorough investigation of all allegations” surrounding Edwards’ hiring. Porter declined to specify which agencies are being investigated.

The state inspector general’s office does not have the authority to probe local policing agencies, according to Kate Hourin, the office’s spokeswoman. Hourin declined to comment further.

Edwards was a trooper with the Virginia State Police for nine months before he resigned on Oct. 28. He worked as a deputy at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office before fatally shooting himself with his service weapon in a Southern California desert last month.

Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said in an email following the initial publication of this story that the agency “always cooperates fully with the Office of the Inspector General (OSIG) in their professional inquiries.”

Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis declined to comment.

Porter, Youngkin’s spokesperson, declined to say when Youngkin had ordered the probe.

Public records first reported by The Times earlier this month show that Edwards was detained for psychiatric evaluation in 2016 after cutting his hand and threatening to kill himself and his father. Emergency medical technicians called the police to help restrain Edwards.

Edwards was detained under an emergency custody order and transported to a local hospital under police escort. A judge approved a temporary detention order for Edwards and he was transferred to a psychiatric facility later that same day.

Records reviewed by The Times earlier this week show that Edwards told the Virginia State Police that he had voluntarily checked himself into a mental health facility in 2016. A Virginia criminal law expert told The Times the disclosure should have triggered further investigation by the Virginia State Police before Edwards was hired.

Geller, the state police spokesperson, had previously said the agency found no “indicators of concern” during its “extensive” vetting of Edwards. She told The Times that the state police would not hire troopers who had been detained under emergency custody orders or temporary detention orders, and attributed Edward’s hiring to “human error” in the agency’s background check process.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office, which employed Edwards immediately before his death, had previously said “no employers disclosed any troubles, reprimands, or internal investigations pertaining to Edwards.”

The Virginia television news station CBS 6 News first reported Wednesday that Youngkin had requested a probe and said that the governor believes the hiring involved human error. “Once the investigation is completed, there will be full transparency,” Youngkin told reporters Wednesday.

In 2021, five years after his psychiatric detention, Edwards entered the Virginia State Police Academy. He graduated Jan. 21 of this year and became a state trooper. He joined the sheriff’s office in Washington County as a deputy in November.

At some point during that time, Edwards catfished a 15-year-old girl online by pretending to be 17 years old, Riverside police said. In late November, he drove to the girl’s California home and killed her grandparents and her mother before setting the house on fire and fleeing with the girl.

Deputies attempted to intercept Edwards about 200 miles away in unincorporated San Bernardino County. He fired at a law enforcement vehicle before turning his service weapon on himself, according to a spokesperson for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. The teenage girl was found physically uninjured.

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