Catfishing officer told Virginia police he was treated at a mental health facility, records show

Catfishing officer told Virginia police he was treated at a mental health facility, records show

Austin Lee Edwards, the now-deceased cop who ‘catfished’ a 15-year-old Riverside girl and killed her grandparents and mother last month, has revealed during his bid to become a Private Virginia state that he had voluntarily checked himself into mental health. installation 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 surfaced during the “extensive” hiring process. ‘Edwards. But records reviewed by The Times show the agency had at least some insight into Edwards’ mental health issues.

Edwards’ disclosure should have triggered further investigation before he was hired, said William Pelfrey, a professor of criminal justice at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Wilder School of Government.

It’s unclear whether Virginia State Police asked follow-up questions after Edwards disclosed his past mental health issues. Geller said in a previous 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, Va. police report obtained by The Times through a public records request, Edwards was taken into custody after emergency medical technicians called police for him. help hold it.

Paramedics, accompanied by police, took Edwards to a local hospital, where he was held under an emergency custody order. Later that same day, a judge approved a remand order and Edwards was transferred to a local mental institution.

The new records show that, while applying to become a state trooper, Edwards told his background investigator during a pre-test interview that “he voluntarily checked himself into a mental health facility in 2016.” .

The Times, in a Dec. 6 email, asked Geller if Edwards had disclosed the 2016 incident. She said he had not.

Geller said the state agency would not have hired any officer candidate it knew had been detained under an emergency custody order or temporary detention order.

Geller also previously declined a public records request sent by The Times for Edwards’ background check and psychological evaluation, saying she was exempt from the public records law because they are part of Edwards’ personnel file. Edwards, who is exempt from mandatory disclosure, she said.

Pelfrey, the criminal justice expert, said depending on the nature of the incident, a law enforcement agency should request additional details when a candidate police officer reveals they have 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 necessary to bring a suspect into custody,” Pelfrey said. “So you want someone who has really good objective judgment in knowing when to use force with a suspect.”

“If someone has a history of violence against themselves or others, their objectivity may be compromised,” Pelfrey added. “It does not disqualify them, but it warrants further investigation as part of the substantive process.”

According to records reviewed by The Times, Edwards told the agency in an interview before his polygraph test that he voluntarily checked himself into a mental health facility. The polygraph examination was administered on February 9, 2021 in Lebanon, Virginia.

Documents showing Edwards leaked much of his personal history were shared with The Times by Jeff Pike, chief executive of investigative firm Complete Surveillance and Investigative Services. Pike worked in law enforcement in Virginia for nearly two decades and said he was sharing the records to shed light on lower hiring standards for law enforcement in Virginia.

“The official account was inconsistent with the facts,” Pike said.

Two people with extensive knowledge of internal Virginia State Police systems and protocols, who were granted anonymity because they fear retaliation for speaking to the press, verified the authenticity of the recordings.

Edwards also revealed before the polygraph test that he had previously committed traffic offenses for following his vehicle too closely and had been in an accident before. The Times obtained tapes of the two traffic violations, which occurred in Washington County, Virginia. Edwards also told the agency that he “mistakenly” ate marijuana brownies about two years before joining the force. He also said he “quit” his job at Walmart in July 2020 “without notice,” the records show.

Edwards admitted he had three unpaid bills at two local hospitals “from 2016 to 2018,” according to the filing.

During the polygraph, Edwards said he did not falsify any information on his application and did not commit any serious sexual acts that led to an arrest. Edwards also said he never committed a serious crime or covered up any illegal drug activity.

Pelfrey, the criminal justice professor, said Virginia State Police should have discovered information about Edwards’ detention and custody orders because that information was publicly available.

“A good background investigation should have found that,” he said.

Edwards, 28, left the Virginia State Police in late October and joined the Washington County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy in mid-November. Police say he fished the girl from Riverside posing as a 17-year-old online. Last month, he killed his grandparents and mother in their Riverside home, before setting the residence on fire 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 he fired at a law enforcement vehicle, according to a doorman. -say of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. The teenager was found physically unharmed.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office previously said it contacted Virginia State Police during Edwards’ hiring process and that “no employer disclosed any issues, reprimands or internal investigations. concerning Edwards”.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Times editor Grace Toohey contributed to this report.

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