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'Human error' made when Virginia State Police hired man now accused of murdering California family

Posted at 5:51 PM, Dec 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-07 20:53:39-05

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. – A "human error" was made during the hiring process of former Virginia State Trooper Austin Edwards, a Virginia State Police spokesperson has confirmed.

A review of Edwards' hire and time as a state trooper was ordered following a drive from Virginia to California after which Edwards allegedly killed the family of a teenage girl he met online.

The 27-year-old former trooper and Virginia sheriff's deputy fatally shot himself as police surrounded him.

"The department’s administrative review is now complete and has revealed that human error resulted in an incomplete database query during Edwards’ hiring process," Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller wrote in an email.

While the specifics of the incomplete database query were not revealed, the Los Angeles Times recently obtained a 2016 police report that detailed a situation during which Edwards was held in Abingdon, Virginia for a psychiatric evaluation because he allegedly threatened his life and the life of his father.

The report said Edwards' father told police he found his son locked in a bathroom with a cut on his hand and a knife and a hatchet nearby. He then tried to restrain his son until police arrived, but Austin Edwards allegedly bit his dad.

EMS later called the police because Austin Edwards was not accepting medical aid and wouldn't stay put. They said he told officers that as soon he was un-handcuffed that he was going to kill himself and his father.

An emergency custody order was issued and medical professionals found Austin Edwards met the requirements for police to issue a temporary detention order.

Five years later, Virginia State Police hired Austin Edwards who entered the police academy in July 2021. He graduated as a trooper in January 2022 and was assigned to patrol Henrico County. He resigned in October 2022, weeks before the California murders and his death.

"At no point during the hiring process or during his 15 months with the department did Edwards disclose any incidents that would have disqualified him from employment," Geller's statement read. "Although we believe this [human error] to be an isolated incident, steps are currently underway to ensure the error is not repeated going forward. The department is also proactively auditing existing personnel records and practices."

Virginia State Police provided the following additional information:

The forensic review of Edwards’ department‐issued laptop and cell phone remains ongoing by the VSP High Tech Crimes Division. In addition, as required by VSP policy, Edwards turned in all state‐owned, department‐issued equipment on his last day of employment, Oct. 28, 2022. Included in the returned equipment inventory are all service weapons, uniforms, and badge.

The Virginia State Police conducts a thorough background check as part of its mandatory hiring process for entry into the academy. That background check requires passage of written, psychological, and physical testing, as well as a pre‐employment polygraph.

During the background investigation phase of the employment process, the department obtains and documents detailed information regarding the applicant’s background, criminal history, ability and integrity to ensure the most highly qualified and suitable applicants are approved for employment.

As a CALEA accredited public safety agency, the Virginia State Police utilizes standardized performance evaluations for all sworn employees, which includes a personnel early intervention system.

As a probationary employee, Edwards was also given monthly performance evaluations, in accordance with department policy. During Edwards' short tenure with the department, he never exhibited any behaviors to trigger any internal administrative or criminal investigations.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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