The Bulletin

Youngkin says he believes ‘full investigation’ resolved State Police hiring error

By: - May 8, 2023 4:41 pm

Gov. Glenn Youngkin addresses a crowd at the Executive Mansion before the ceromonial signing of a bill dealing with antisemitism. (Graham Moomaw/Virginia Mercury)

Gov. Glenn Youngkin said Monday that he’s confident the state’s watchdog agency conducted a “full investigation” into Virginia State Police hiring practices after a former trooper killed three people, despite the lack of an independent report by the Office of the State Inspector General laying out any findings or analysis.

Youngkin had called for an investigation into how State Police missed background information that should have disqualified Austin Lee Edwards, the so-called “catfish cop,” from being hired as a state trooper in early 2022. Edwards left his job with the State Police last October about a month before he killed three members of a California family and attempted to abduct a 15-year-old girl he had been communicating with online. He had recently been hired to work for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Southwest Virginia.

The inspector general’s office recently told media outlets, including the Virginia Mercury, that its review of the case had been completed but the office had not produced a report of its own. Instead, the office released a letter written by State Police leaders that described the results of an internal review.

“Of course they worked with the State Police and conducted a full investigation,” Youngkin said Monday when asked about the topic at an unrelated bill-signing event at the Executive Mansion. “State Police reported that there had been human error, that there was a mistake, and they were going to revise all of their processes.”

Prior to Monday’s statement, Youngkin’s office had declined to comment on the lack of a formal report from the inspector general. The case has drawn concern about potentially lax vetting of law enforcement recruits at a time of personnel shortages, but State Police maintain that the Edwards hiring was an isolated case and not part of a pattern of potentially disqualifying information going undetected by its background investigators.

Though State Police officials initially said there had been “no indicators of concern” in Edwards’ hiring process, they now acknowledge their vetting process failed to turn up a publicly documented mental health incident in 2016 that resulted in a court ordering Edwards to receive treatment and stripping him of his firearm rights as a safety precaution. 

In the letter released by the inspector general’s office, State Police Superintendent Gary Settle said his agency has enacted remedial training on background check procedures for potential hires and has instituted a new rule requiring investigators to interview everyone who lives with a job applicant.

“The reality is that errors do happen,” Youngkin said. “And our job is to make sure they’re not repeated. And I think this is a case where they have made sure that that error won’t be repeated.”


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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.