Virginia governor asks for probe into hiring of ‘catfishing’ cop

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

Macaulay Porter, a spokesman for Youngkin, confirmed Thursday that the inspector general would conduct “an independent and thorough investigation into all allegations” related to Edward’s hiring. Porter declined to specify which agencies are being investigated.

According to Kate Hourin, the office’s spokeswoman, the inspector general’s office does not have the authority to investigate local police departments. Hourin declined further comment.

Edwards was a soldier with the Virginia State Police for nine months before retiring on October 28. He worked as a deputy in the Washington County Sheriff’s Office before fatally shooting himself with his service pistol in a Southern California desert last month.

Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis and Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller both declined to comment.

Porter, Youngkin’s spokesman, declined to say when Youngkin ordered the investigation.

Public records, first reported by The Times earlier this month, show Edwards was jailed for psychiatric evaluation in 2016 after cutting his hand and threatening to kill himself and his father. Paramedics called the police to hold Edwards.

Edwards was arrested on an emergency warrant and taken to a local hospital under police escort. A judge approved a temporary detention order for Edwards, and he was transferred to a psychiatric facility that same day.

Records reviewed by The Times earlier this week show that Edwards told Virginia State Police that he voluntarily committed himself to a mental health facility in 2016. A Virginia criminal justice expert told The Times the disclosure should have prompted further investigation by the Virginia State Police before Edwards was terminated.

Geller, the state police spokesman, previously said the agency found no “evidence of concern” in its “extensive” review of Edwards. She told the Times that the state police would not hire soldiers who were detained on emergency warrants or temporary warrants, attributing Edward’s hiring to “human error” during the agency’s background check.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office, which employed Edwards immediately prior to his death, previously said “no employer has disclosed any issues, references, or internal investigations regarding Edwards.”

Virginia-based television news station CBS 6 News first reported Wednesday that Youngkin had requested an investigation, saying the governor believed the hiring involved human error. “Once the investigation is complete, there will be full transparency,” Youngkin told reporters on Wednesday.

In 2021, five years after his psychiatric incarceration in 2016, Edwards entered the Virginia State Police Academy. He graduated on January 21 of this year and became a state police officer. He joined the Washington County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy in November.

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

Deputies attempted to intercept Edwards about 200 miles away in unincorporated San Bernardino County. According to a spokesman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, he shot a police vehicle before pointing his service pistol at himself. The teenager was found physically unharmed. Virginia governor asks for probe into hiring of ‘catfishing’ cop

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