Background check missed deputy’s red flags before killings

A background investigator erroneously didn’t verify a would-be trooper’s psychological well being historical past, permitting him to be employed for the Virginia State Police the 12 months earlier than he sexually extorted and kidnapped a 15-year-old woman and killed three members of her household in California, officers mentioned.

Col. Gary Settle, the Virginia State Police superintendent, wrote in a Dec. 30 letter to the state’s inspector normal that the hiring of Austin Lee Edwards, regardless of his 2016 involuntary admittance to a psychiatric facility, was “the direct results of human error” and seemed to be an remoted incident.

Edwards was employed by the state police in July 2021 and resigned 9 months later. He was then employed as a deputy sheriff in Washington County, Virginia, final November, simply 9 days earlier than the killings in California.

The slayings — and their connection to Virginia — prompted Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin to ask the state’s inspector normal for a “full investigation.”

Edwards had posed on-line as a 17-year-old boy whereas speaking with the 15-year-old woman in California, a type of deception often known as “catfishing.” He requested her to ship nude pictures of herself and he or she stopped responding to his messages.

On Nov. 25, Edwards killed the woman’s mom and grandparents, then set hearth to their house in Riverside, a metropolis about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

Edwards died by suicide throughout a shootout with San Bernardino sheriff’s deputies the identical day. The woman was rescued.

Settle’s letter was first reported Monday by the Los Angeles Occasions.

The Virginia State Police had beforehand — and repeatedly — mentioned there have been no purple flags throughout Edwards’ background investigation. Nonetheless, Edwards had disclosed his 2016 keep on the psychiatric facility — after he threatened to kill his father and himself when he was 21 — throughout a pre-polygraph interview.

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Settle wrote that Edwards’ disclosure wouldn’t have been a right away disqualifier for employment at that time of the hiring course of however slightly an “alternative for clarification.”

However an unnamed background investigator queried the flawed database and used the inaccurate search code, Settle wrote. Utilizing an incorrect search code meant the investigator didn’t see the psychological well being order — which might have disqualified Edwards from state police employment.

This investigator was the one one who was “unaware” of the requirement to seek for psychological well being orders in the course of the background course of, based on Settle.

The state police has since modified its employment processes and background investigation insurance policies and coaching because of Edwards’ hiring.