VSP training officer encouraged Edwards to apply for job closer to home: 'So he would be happier'

Posted at 6:27 PM, Dec 28, 2022

Austin Lee Edward's field training officer with the Virginia State Police encouraged him to apply for a job closer to home "so he would be happier," according to Edward's application for employment with the Washington County, Virginia Sheriff's Office.

CBS 6 obtained the application through a public record's request.

Edwards applied for the job in September while still working as a VSP trooper in Henrico.

He obtained the job in Washington County and, just days after he started the job in November, he traveled to California and killed three family members of a 15-year-old girl who he kidnapped before killing himself.

Edwards worked as a VSP trooper for just nine months after completing the training academy.

In his application to Washington County, Edwards said he hoped to start a new job closer to home.

For his three references, he listed his father, a close friend and his VSP field training officer. Each wrote something in support of Edwards.

His father wrote, "They made him station way out in Richmond, which he was fine with, but I'm glad he is applying somewhere close to home, less dangerous out here anyway."

Dr. William Pelfrey, who is a criminal justice professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said typically reference letters come from professionals, like a supervisor or a professor.

"There is no utility in a letter from a parent. The assumption is it's going to be positive," Pelfrey said.

In our previous reporting, we learned officers in Abingdon, Virginia placed Edwards in a mental health hospital in 2016 after he threatened to kill himself and his father.

We also obtained Edwards's polygraph results from a whistleblower, which show Edwards told a VSP polygraph examiner during a pre-test interview that he voluntarily checked himself into a mental health facility in 2016.

VSP spokeswoman Corinne Geller said human error led to Edwards getting hired with VSP.

In his Edwards's Washington County application, his VSP field training officer wrote that Austin had been "very happy with his job at the Virginia State Police" and said his only complaint had been his far distance from his family.

The officer wrote that he encouraged Edwards to apply somewhere close to home so he would be happier.

"You would expect people to stay with an agency for more than one year because an agency invests a lot of money in recruiting, training and then field training a new officer, so it's a serious loss for a new agency when somebody departs earlier than three to four years," Pelfrey said.

Geller said there is no requirement that troopers stay for an allotted amount of time after they are hired.

Washington County Virginia Sheriff Blake Andis previously said in a statement that "past employers and the Virginia State Police were contacted during the hiring processing; however, no employers disclosed any troubles, reprimands,or internal investigations pertaining to Edwards."

When CBS 6 Reporter Melissa Hipolit spoke to Andis by phone, he said they do a pretty intensive background checked but declined to discuss Edwards's hiring process.

Andis did say the fact that Edwards worked as a state trooper gave him a lot of credibility.

"Looks like Washington County just assumed Virginia State Police did a thorough background check when there were serious oversights in their investigation, and then Washington County compounded that by not doing a sufficient investigation of the applicant as well," Pelfrey said.

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