‘Catfish’ cop used his father as a reference to get job as deputy

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Austin Lee Edwards, the cop who “catfished” a 15-year-old Riverside woman and killed her grandparents and mom earlier than taking his personal life, used his personal father as one among three character references on his utility for a job as a sheriff’s deputy.

Edwards signed on with the Washington County Sheriff’s Workplace in rural Virginia weeks after resigning from a nine-month stint with the Virginia State Police. He killed the household in Riverside, Calif., 9 days after starting work in Washington County.

Edwards used his father, a detailed buddy and his Virginia State Police area coaching officer as references when making use of to the Washington County Sheriff’s Workplace, in accordance with his employment utility, which The Instances obtained by means of a public data request.

Edwards’ area coaching supervisor, whose identify doesn’t seem on the reference, wrote that Edwards had been “very blissful” in his job with the Virginia State Police.

“[Edwards] talks to me always in regards to the individuals he has helped all through his day, and he usually loves what he does,” the coaching supervisor wrote. Edwards’ one criticism was being too removed from his household, the supervisor added.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Workplace stated that it had checked with Virginia State Police earlier than hiring Edwards and that “no employers disclosed any troubles, reprimands, or inner investigations pertaining to Edwards.”

In an interview, Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis declined to specify how his division vetted Edwards. Andis stated his workplace ran Edwards’ identify by means of legislation enforcement databases, however declined to specify which of them.

The Instances beforehand reported that Edwards had a documented history of mental health struggles and was detained for a psychiatric analysis in 2016 after threatening to kill himself and his father and experiencing relationship troubles together with his girlfriend.

Andis advised The Instances that Edwards didn’t disclose his 2016 psychological well being incident to the Washington County Sheriff’s Workplace. The 2016 incident and Edwards’ subsequent detention are referenced in an Abingdon, Va., police report that specialists say ought to have turned up in lots of customary background checks.

Information reviewed by The Instances confirmed that Edwards advised Virginia State Police he had voluntarily checked in to a psychological well being facility. The company employed him anyway.

Corinne Geller, a Virginia State Police spokeswoman, beforehand stated that “human error” resulted in an incomplete database question throughout Edwards’ hiring course of” and that the company discovered no “indicators of concern” throughout his background verify.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has asked the state’s inspector basic to research the Virginia State Police’s hiring of Edwards.

Edwards’ quick tenure with the Virginia State Police and his psychological well being historical past ought to have raised pink flags for the Washington County Sheriff’s Workplace, in accordance with felony justice and legislation enforcement specialists.

Art Acevedo, the interim police chief for the Aurora, Colo., Police Division and a nationally acknowledged policing knowledgeable, stated Edwards’ nine-month tenure with the state police ought to have prompted additional questioning earlier than he was employed in Washington County.

“I’d should ask a variety of questions on why he’s shifting so rapidly,” he stated. “That’s fairly uncommon for anyone to undergo an academy, and swiftly, flip round and go away.”

Acevedo stated that though legislation enforcement businesses set their very own requirements and protocols, most departments can be unlikely to rent Edwards after such a quick work historical past except he enrolled in their very own police academy.

“It’s next-to-nothing in expertise and never sufficient of a major work historical past when it comes to a police officer to evaluate whether or not they’d be employed by one other company,” he added. “It’s important to be within the area two to 5 years with out going by means of the academy once more.”

Edwards stated on his utility to Washington County Sheriff’s Workplace that he had additionally utilized to the Police Division in Richlands, Va.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Workplace may need assumed the Virginia State Police had adequately probed Edwards’ background, stated William Pelfrey, a professor of felony justice at Virginia Commonwealth College’s Wilder College of Authorities.

“[But] Washington County didn’t do their due diligence of their background verify; it seems like they assumed Virginia State Police did every part appropriately,” Pelfrey stated. “It’s uncommon that somebody spends lower than a yr in a legislation enforcement company. Leaving VSP after 9 months, that’s a pink flag, and hiring somebody who spent such a short while with one company suggests there must be some form of background investigation.”

At some point after beginning work as a deputy, Edwards served as a bailiff for a homicide trial on the Washington County Courthouse in Abingdon, in accordance with courtroom data and images obtained by The Instances. Lower than every week later, he was on the highway to California, the place he killed the woman’s grandparents and mom and set hearth to her house, in accordance with Riverside police.

Edwards died of a self-inflicted gunshot from his service weapon after deputies tried to intercept him in San Bernardino County, in accordance with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Division. The woman was bodily unhurt.

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