Mental health issue missed when police hired man who later killed 3 people in Riverside

Mental health issue missed when police hired man who later killed 3 people in Riverside

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.

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