CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The surviving members of a family killed by Virginia law enforcement officer Austin Edwards are planning to sue over his hiring by Virginia State Police (VSP) and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO).

As required by the Code of Virginia, notices of the intent to file a civil lawsuit were sent out to the law enforcement agencies, as well as the Washington County government, in April, according to Washington County Board of Supervisors Chairman Saul Hernandez.

“In Virginia, there is a statute that says if you’re going to be pursuing civilly state agencies or local agencies, like the sheriff’s department or the state police, that you have to file a notice first, and the purpose for that is essentially to make sure that, you know, records aren’t destroyed, that you’re holding on to things that may become relevant in the suit,” 8News Legal Analyst Russ Stone said. “They filed that notice. But what we still haven’t seen and what will be more interesting is if a suit is actually filed, what their actual basis for alleged liability is.”

Hernandez said that the notice received by the county government did not include specific information about damages that would be sought; just that there was going to be a claim. But, according to the Los Angeles Times, requested damages could exceed $100 million.

“I felt like it was coming. I just didn’t know when,” former VSP captain Dr. Frank Whitehurst said Friday. “I was very happy to see that the legal team for the victims are going to take some action.”

Whitehurst worked with VSP until 2008, with experience in the agency’s bureau operations and human resources. He went on to earn his doctorate in Philosophy in Business Administration with a Specialization in Homeland Security in 2011. More recently, though, he has been following Edwards’ case, and even wrote to Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin in January to notify him of concerns regarding the hiring practices at VSP.

Those concerns came to the forefront after documents were released following the murders of three members of the Winek family in Riverside, Calif. the day after Thanksgiving in 2022 at the hands of Edwards. Police reports showed that, in 2016, Edwards was harming himself, had to be restrained by first responders, and threatened in front of authorities to kill himself and his father. The incident resulted in an order from a judge to admit him to a mental health facility in the same area of Virginia where he would go on to become a sheriff’s deputy in 2022. Additionally, as 8News previously reported, messages revealed a concerning past of Edwards, who allegedly engaged in deceptive online behavior with a minor in the years leading up to the aforementioned incident in 2016.

Riverside Police said it was once again a deceptive, “catfishing” relationship in which Edwards engaged with a teenage girl in the Winek family leading up to the murder of her grandparents and mother. The criminal investigation into the triple murder is still ongoing, but police said that Edwards traveled across the country from Virginia, killed three members of the Winek family, set their home on fire to cover up the crimes, and drove off with the teen girl, only to kill himself in a shootout with sheriff’s deputies using his WSCO service-issued weapon.

“State Police hired someone that shouldn’t have gotten hired,” Whitehurst said. “The checks and balances are not in place.”

Before the end of the year, Gov. Youngkin called for an external investigation of VSP. A spokesperson for the agency had, at the time, already released a statement that its internal review found that “human error” resulted in Edwards’ hiring, despite the existence of records that would have disqualified him from being able to purchase a firearm under Virginia law. However, in April, 8News reached out to the Office of the Inspector General (OSIG), tasked with conducting that external investigation. The resulting report included only paperwork from VSP, with no analysis from OSIG.

“I was actually surprised because the governor had said that it was going to be full transparency after these investigations were completed,” Whitehurst said. “The tools [that] were used are exactly what it takes to be a trooper, including the confidence of a trooper to come in and control the situation, whether it be combating multiple people, or trying to arrest him on the side of the interstate, or, in this particular case, going through somebody’s front door, committing a criminal act. The same techniques apply.”

Neither OSIG nor a spokesperson for the governor responded to 8News’ requests for comment on the notice of these civil suits. However, spokespersons for both VSP and the Office of the Attorney General said that they do not comment on pending litigation.

“I think it might be a little bit unusual,” Stone said. “It sounds like they’re alleging that it was negligent to hire this individual because of things that they, perhaps, should have investigated and they didn’t know about him. But, in civil law, for negligence law, you also have to have something called proximate cause, which, basically, you have to connect the dots to show how, if there was a failure in the hiring, a negligence in the hiring, how did that actually cause the death?”

8News reached out to attorneys representing surviving members of the Winek family, but has not received a response.

“If something doesn’t change, it’s going to happen again,” Whitehurst said. “Hopefully, this litigation will make someone change the system.”