RICHMOND, Va. — Austin Lee Edwards, the former Virginia State Trooper and Washington County Sherrif's Deputy who drove across the country, kidnapped a 15-year-old California girl, killed three members of her family, then shot himself in November 2022, had voluntarily committed himself to a mental health facility in 2016.
By doing so, Edwards lost his ability to buy a gun under Virginia state law. Virginia State Police (VSP) later hired Edwards as a trooper.
That's according to documents uncovered by a reporter in Southwest Virginia.
Jasmine Franks, a reporter at Southwest Virginia Today, shared the documents with CBS 6 because she said, "it was important Virginia knows about this."
Edwards graduated from the Virginia State Police training academy in January 2022 and worked as a trooper until October 2022.
He then left VSP to take a job as an officer with the Washington County Virginia Sheriff's Office in November.
The order for treatment and accompanying document from February 10, 2016, notified the VSP's Central Criminal Records Exchange (CCRE) that Edwards voluntarily committed himself to a mental health facility in Bristol after officers detained him on a Temporary Detention Order (TDO).
By doing so, Edwards lost his right to buy a gun under state law.
Franks discovered the records in a Bristol courthouse.
Officers in Abingdon Virginia took out a TDO on Edwards after a mental health incident where Edwards threatened to kill himself and his father.
In order to get his gun rights restored, Edwards would have had to apply for a restoration of rights, either in the jurisdiction where he committed himself or in his place of residence.
CBS 6 Problem Solver Melissa Hipolit called every court where Edwards lived when he applied to the VSP according to the job application he filled out with the Washington County Sheriff's Office in September, and they had no record of Edwards getting his gun rights restored.
Neither did Bristol, which is where the mental health facility Edwards committed himself to is located.
At the bottom of the CCRE form, the portion has not been filled out that is completed after the restoration of rights occurs.
The CBS 6 Problem Solvers wanted to ask the head of the Virginia State Police, Colonel Gary Settle, how Edwards got hired as a trooper considering he was not even allowed to carry a weapon, but VSP spokeswoman Corinne Geller said he would not talk to us.
However, she agreed to answer questions on camera for the first time, herself.
"That order goes to the VSP so how would that not show up when you're hiring a trooper?" Hipolit asked about the CCRE form and accompanying treatment order.
"As we have stated we have identified there was a human error, an isolated incident involving human error on the part of the hiring process of Edwards," Geller responded.
"How can the public trust that the troopers they are interacting with on a daily basis are quality individuals who don't have something like this in their history?" Hipolit asked.
"Had we known what we know now this individual would never have been hired with our department," Geller replied. "Yes, there was a mistake, but it's not a systemic issue within our hiring process. It was an isolated human error that allowed this individual to be hired by us."
Geller said the VSP conducted an internal audit and that is now completed.
The state Inspector General is investigating the situation.
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