Virginia State Police officials on Wednesday (Dec. 7) admitted to botching the background check that allowed Austin Lee Edwards, the man who killed three members of a Riverside family in November, to enter the agency academy in 2021.
Edwards was taken for a mental health assessment in 2016 after cutting himself, biting his father and threatening to kill himself and his father, according to an incident report by Abingdon Police Department.
Tied to a stretcher, Edwards was taken first to hospital and then to a facility where patients can receive short-term treatment in a crisis. Virginia State Police, citing a state privacy law, did not disclose how long Edwards was held.
Edwards, while applying to the academy, did not disclose the incident which happened in a small town on the southern border of Virginia. And the report was not discovered during the background check because “human error resulted in an incomplete database query during Edwards’ hiring process,” the police spokeswoman said. of the State of Virginia, Corinne Geller, in a press release.
“While we believe this to be an isolated incident, measures are currently underway to ensure the error does not occur in the future,” she wrote in the statement. “The department also proactively audits existing personnel records and practices.”
Geller, in an interview, declined to elaborate on the error or say whether, if the report had been discovered, it would have eliminated Edwards from consideration for the academy.
“We’re not going to make assumptions at this point,” she said.
Jim Bueermann, a police consultant and former Redlands police chief, said Wednesday that it was difficult to tell from the Virginia State Police statement whether it was a a person’s mistake or a flaw in the background check system.
But finding the report likely would have caused police to reject Edwards for the academy, he said.
“I don’t know what the standards are in Virginia, and I don’t know what the standards would be in this agency either,” Bueermann said. “Having said that, though, I think best practice is that, yes, he would be disqualified at an agency that is very focused on hiring the right people and not the wrong people.”
“One of the most important decisions a sheriff or police chief makes is who they appoint as a deputy sheriff or a police officer,” he said. “It seems they take this very seriously and leads me to believe they wouldn’t have hired him if they had known.”
Edwards graduated from the Virginia State Police Academy on January 21, 2022 and passed written, psychological and physical tests, as well as a polygraph test, before being hired by the Virginia State Police, a Geller said. Edwards resigned on October 28.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office then hired Edwards on Nov. 16, and he was undergoing an orientation before being assigned to the patrol division, the sheriff’s office said. No previous employers revealed any trouble, discipline or investigation during background checks, Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis said.
No one at the sheriff’s office was available Wednesday to comment on the Virginia State Police statement or say whether they had conducted their own background check that missed the police report on Edwards.
Edwards, 28, at one point developed an online relationship with a 15-year-old Winek family member while posing as a 17-year-old boy, said Riverside police, who called the ruse a “catfishing”. He drove across the country to meet her after she refused his request for nude photos and on November 25 he visited her home at Price Court. There he killed his grandparents, Mark Winek, 69, and Sharie Winek, 65, and his mother, Brooke Winek, 38, before setting the house on fire.
Edwards left with the girl and later that day killed himself during a confrontation with San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies in the Mojave Desert.
The girl escaped during the encounter and was not physically injured, police said.
Police have not revealed how the Wineks were killed.
Mark Winek coached baseball and softball for about a decade at Arlington High in Riverside.
No one can say how the events surrounding the crime would have been altered had Edwards been disqualified from a career in law enforcement, because he had failed to report to Riverside’s daughter as a police officer. It is also unclear whether he received mental health counseling after the incident on February 8, 2016.
Police arrived at the home at 3.33am that day after medics called for help to restrain Edwards, who was being restrained by his father, Roy Edwards, and who had resisted their efforts to treat a serious illness. left hand cut, police report. said.
“Austin made several statements in the presence of officers that he wanted to die, that he would attempt suicide as soon as he was released from restraints, and that he would kill his father,” Officer Crystal E wrote. Dea. “The Washington County Rescue Team responded and fought the subject to obtain handcuffs.”
Roy Edwards told police he and his son each had two beers the night before while watching the Super Bowl. He woke up before dawn to find his son locked in a bathroom and saying he was unable to get out. Roy Edwards opened the door and saw a cut on his son’s hand, with knives and a hatchet nearby.
Roy Edwards called an ambulance but when his son found out he tried to leave the apartment. So his father held him back.
“Roy had bite marks on both forearms caused by Austin while restraining him. Roy indicated that Austin never had a history of suicidal behavior,” the report read..
Austin Edwards’ odd behavior apparently continued. NBC News reported that a few weeks before Edwards killed the Wineks, he bought a two-bedroom house in Saltville, Va., without examining it first, and blacked out the windows when moving in.
Police searched the house but did not reveal what they saw or seized.
It was unclear on Wednesday whether Roy Edwards had ever been questioned during his son’s background check. A phone number for him could not be found.
“What did they do when they checked the background? said Bueermann, the policing consultant. “Someone would have known about this (mental health incident) and that’s someone he should have spoken to.”
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