June 4, 2023

Family of three Riverside relations slain final yr by “catfish” cop Austin Lee Edwards plan to file a lawsuit subsequent month searching for greater than $100 million in damages from two Virginia legislation enforcement companies that employed him although he failed a preemployment psychological well being screening.

Mychelle Blandin, who’s the daughter of Mark Winek, 69 and Sharie Winek, 65, and sister of Brooke Winek, 38, submitted a tort declare this week in opposition to the Virginia State Police as a precursor to a proper lawsuit. All three have been killed and their house set on hearth by Edwards on Nov. 25.

Brooke Winek’s 15-year-old daughter was kidnapped by Edwards in the course of the crime, however managed to flee unhurt earlier than Edwards fatally shot himself throughout a confrontation with sheriff’s deputies.

Officer Ryan Railsback, a Riverside Police Division spokesperson, mentioned Friday the company continues to be analyzing greater than 1 million pages of web and social media content material involving the suspect and kidnapped teen.

The lawsuit will allege that Virginia State Police have been grossly negligent in hiring Edwards as a state trooper in January 2022 and buried the outcomes of his failed psychological well being analysis.

Blandin additionally has filed a separate tort declare in opposition to the Washington County, Virginia, Sheriff’s Workplace alleging the company was negligent as a result of it relied on the Virginia State Police’s psychological well being analysis of Edwards and didn’t full its personal background investigation earlier than hiring him as a deputy in November 2022.

Shouldn’t have had badge, lawyer says

“There’s not a legislation enforcement company within the nation that may have employed Austin Lee Edwards,” mentioned David M. Ring, a Manhattan Seaside lawyer representing Blandin and the 15-year-old lady’s youthful sibling. “But, in Virginia there are two separate legislation enforcement companies that fully dropped the ball, permitting him via with out checking his background. It’s as a consequence of ineptitude and outdated insurance policies. Frankly, it’s careless and reckless.”

Riverside police mentioned Edwards, 28, pretended to be a 17-year-old boy to ascertain an internet, “catfishing” relationship with the 15-year-old lady. He drove throughout from southern Virginia to satisfy her at her household’s Value Court docket house after she rejected his request to ship him nude images of herself.

A short while after the slayings, Edwards, who on the time was employed as a Washington County sheriff’s deputy, used his service revolver to kill himself throughout a shootout with San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies within the city of Kelso within the Mojave Desert. The kidnap sufferer escaped from Edwards’ automobile unhurt.

The Virginia State Police declined to touch upon the tentative lawsuit as a result of it’s pending litigation, mentioned an e-mail from Corinne Geller, a spokesperson for the company. Officers with the Washington County Sheriff’s Workplace didn’t reply to a request for remark.

The Virginia State Police have claimed that Edwards’ hiring was as a consequence of “human error,” a notion Ring disputes.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin had requested the state’s Workplace of Inspector Normal for a full investigation into Edwards’ hiring.

However due a minimum of partly to a beforehand current mutual settlement between state police and the OIG, state police seem to have merely investigated the matter themselves, in line with The Related Press, which obtained a coverage doc via a public information request.

A memorandum of understanding between state police and the OIG, the watchdog company tasked with investigating waste and rooting out inefficiencies in state authorities, says that in almost all instances, Virginia State Police retains duty for “the oversight and conduct of inside investigations of its personnel,” in line with the AP.

Victims stabbed, smothered

In the meantime, Ring supplied a timeline of Edwards’ 2,300-mile odyssey from Virginia, which included a cease in San Diego, the place he went to the house of a girl whom he had catfished for a number of years however had by no means met in individual.

The girl, who was not recognized within the tort declare, allowed Edwards to stick with her for a number of days earlier than he mysteriously disappeared, Ring mentioned. The girl grew to become involved when Edwards didn’t reply to her texts and notified police he was lacking. Nevertheless, by that point, Edwards was already useless, Ring mentioned.

The tort declare states Edwards displayed his legislation enforcement badge and repair weapon to achieve entry into the Wineks’ house by falsely claiming he was conducting a legislation enforcement investigation.

Edward then had Sharie Winek contact Brooke Winek, allegedly directing her to deliver her 15-year-old daughter to the house instantly. As soon as there, he informed Brooke to return into the home and to go away the lady and all cellphones inside her automobile, the declare states.

After a couple of minutes, the lady bought out of the automobile and entered the house, the place she encountered a grisly scene and her useless relations.

Edward slit Brooke Winek’s throat and asphyxiated Mark and Sharon Winek, who have been each hogtied with luggage over their heads, the tort claims. Lastly, Edwards set the house on hearth and kidnapped the lady at gunpoint.

“The man is a nut case and clearly had some critical psychological well being points,” Ring mentioned. “He got here out to California for a particular purpose and that was to kill individuals and kidnap the lady. He additionally deliberate to take the lady again to a stash home in Virginia, the place he had darkened the home windows. Edwards was unhinged and harmful. He by no means ought to have been a cop.”

Earlier psychological well being points

In his software to turn into a Virginia state trooper, Edwards disclosed that he had voluntarily checked himself right into a psychological well being facility in 2016 after slicing his hand and threatening to kill his father, the tort declare states.

In response, Virginia State Police ordered Edwards to endure a psychological well being analysis, which he failed and the company didn’t examine additional, finally hiring him, Ring mentioned.

After the 2016, psychological well being disaster, police and emergency medical technicians took Edwards into custody at an area hospital, the place he was detained beneath an emergency custody order. A choose permitted a brief detention order and Edwards was transferred to a psychiatric facility.

Shouldn’t have had firearm

Underneath Virginia legislation, anybody held on a brief detention order and subsequently admitted to a remedy facility is prohibited from shopping for or possessing a firearm till that proper is restored by a courtroom, in line with the declare.

“In Edwards’ case, his proper to purchase or possess a firearm was not restored by a courtroom when he utilized to turn into a Virginia state trooper,” the declare says. “Regardless of this, the Virginia State Police employed him, issued him a service pistol, and skilled him in legislation enforcement techniques that he utilized in finishing up the plot to kidnap … and homicide.”

Formal lawsuits in opposition to Virginia State Police and the Washington County Sheriff’s Workplace are anticipated to be filed in June.

Employees author Brian Rokos contributed to this report.