The ‘catfishing’ cop revealed he was treated at a mental health facility
Austin Lee Edwards, the now-deceased police officer who “captured” a 15-year-old Riverside girl and killed her grandparents and mother last month, revealed during his application to become a Virginia state trooper that he had voluntarily entered a mental health Center. facility several years earlier, according to records reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.
The Virginia State Police hired him anyway.
Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, said last month that there were “no indicators of concern” that emerged during Edwards’ “extensive” hiring process. But records reviewed by The Times show the agency had at least some indication of Edwards’ mental health problems.
Edwards’ disclosure should have triggered further investigation before he was hired, he said. William Pelfreyprofessor of criminal justice at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Wilder School of Government.
It’s unclear if the Virginia State Police asked follow-up questions after Edwards disclosed his past mental health issues. Geller said in an earlier statement that “human error resulted in an incomplete database query during Edwards’ hiring process.”
Geller did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
The Times reported last week that Edwards was detained for psychiatric evaluation in February 2016 after cutting his hand and threatening to kill his father. According to an Abingdon, Virginia police report obtained by The Times through a public records request, Edwards was taken into custody after emergency medical technicians called police to help restrain him.
EMTs, accompanied by police, took Edwards to a local hospital, where he was taken into custody under an emergency custody order. Later that day, a judge approved a temporary detention order, and Edwards was transferred to a local psychiatric facility.
The new records show that while applying to become a state trooper, Edwards told his background investigator in a pre-test interview that he “voluntarily checked into a mental health facility in 2016.”
The Times in a December 6 email asked Geller if Edwards had disclosed the 2016 incident. She said no.
Geller said the state agency would not have hired any officer candidate who knew they had been detained under an emergency custody order or temporary detainer.
Geller also previously rejected a public records request sent by The Times for Edwards’ background checks and psychological evaluation, stating that he was exempt from public records law because they are part of Edwards’ personal file, which is exempt from mandatory disclosure. . he said.
Pelfrey, the criminal justice expert, said that depending on the nature of the incident, a law enforcement agency should seek additional details when a police officer candidate reveals that they voluntarily sought mental health treatment, particularly if the incident involved violence. or suicidal ideation.
“Because law enforcement is empowered to use violence when they deem it necessary, force may be required to detain a suspect,” Pelfrey said. “So you want someone who has very good, objective judgment about when to use force on a suspect.”
“If someone has a history of violence against themselves or others, then their objectivity may be compromised,” Pelfrey added. “It doesn’t disqualify them, but it justifies further investigation as part of the vetting process.”
According to records reviewed by The Times, Edwards told the agency in an interview before his polygraph test that he had voluntarily checked himself into a mental health facility. The polygraph exam was administered on February 9, 2021 in Lebanon, Virginia.
Records showing that Edwards revealed much of his personal history were shared with The Times by Jeff Pike, chief executive of the research company. Complete surveillance and investigation services. Pike used to work in Virginia law enforcement for nearly two decades and said he shared the records to shed light on the lower hiring standards for law enforcement in Virginia.
“The official narrative was not consistent with the facts,” Pike said.
Two individuals with intimate knowledge of Virginia State Police internal systems and protocols, who were granted anonymity because they fear retaliation for speaking to the press, verified the authenticity of the records.
Edwards also revealed before the polygraph test that he had previous traffic violations for following too closely in his vehicle and had previously been involved in an accident. The Times obtained records of both traffic violations, which occurred in Washington County, Virginia. Edwards also told the agency that he had “mistakenly” eaten pot brownies about two years before joining the force. He also said that he “resigned” from his job at Walmart in July 2020 “without notice,” according to records.
Edwards admitted that he had three outstanding bills at two local hospitals “from 2016 through 2018,” according to the record.
During the polygraph, Edwards said that he had not falsified any information on his application and had not committed any serious sexual acts that would lead to an arrest. Edwards also said that he had never committed any felony or concealed any illegal drug activity.
Pelfrey, the criminal justice professor, said the Virginia State Police should have discovered information about Edwards’ arrest and custody warrants because the information was publicly available.
“A good vetting should have found this,” he said.
Edwards, 28, resigned from the Virginia State Police in late October and joined the Washington County sheriff’s office as a deputy in mid-November. Police said he caught the Riverside girl by introducing himself online as a 17-year-old. Last month, he killed his grandparents and his mother in their Riverside home, before burning down the residence and leaving with the girl.
Edwards died of a self-inflicted gunshot with his service weapon after deputies tried to intercept him in San Bernardino County and shot at a police vehicle, according to a spokesperson for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. The teenager was found physically unharmed.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office previously said it had contacted the Virginia State Police during Edwards’ hiring process and that “no employer disclosed any issues, reprimands or internal investigations related to Edwards.”
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Times staff writer Grace Toohey contributed to this report.