Edwards, a Virginia deputy, catfished a 15-year-old girl, kidnapped her and murdered her grandparents, Mark and Sharie Winek, and mother, Brooke Winek, in their Riverside home in November 2022.
Riverside, CA – Attorneys David Ring and Neil Gehlawat of Taylor & Ring, a California plaintiff trial law firm, and Attorney Alison Saros of Saros Law, filed a lawsuit against the Washington County of Virginia Sheriff’s Office and the Estate of Austin Lee Edwards for negligent hiring on behalf of a relative of the Winek family. Edwards catfished a 15-year-old girl, kidnapped her and murdered her grandparents, Mark and Sharie Winek, and mother, Brooke Winek, in their Riverside home in November 2022.
“Edwards never should have been hired by the Sheriff’s Department. He was barred by the courts from owning or possessing a gun because of his mental illness and because he was a clear danger to the community,” said lead attorney David Ring. “He used his position as a sheriff’s deputy and the gun they gave him to kill these innocent victims.”
“Our law enforcement agencies and their process for screening new hires must be held to the highest standards,” explained co-counsel Alison Saros. “These individuals are meant to protect us, but the Sheriff’s Office failed to follow the proper processes. Sadly, the Winek family has suffered irreparable tragedy.”
On November 25, 2022, Austin Lee Edwards – a 28-year-old Washington County Sheriff’s deputy – kidnapped 15-year-old R.W. who lived in Riverside, CA after catfishing the girl online and telling her that he was 17. Edwards drove to her Riverside home, murdered her mother and grandparents and set fire to the house. Edwards fled the scene in his vehicle with R.W. but was surrounded by deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. Edwards killed himself in a shootout with the deputies.
Edwards first became a law enforcement officer in January 2022 when he was hired by the Virginia State Police as a state trooper. He resigned in October 2022 and applied for, and was hired for, a position as a deputy with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in November 2022. The Sheriff’s Office did not conduct an adequate investigation into Edwards’ background before hiring him.
In 2016, Edwards was detained for a psychiatric evaluation in connection with cutting himself and threatening to kill his father. As a result, Edwards was held on a temporary detention order and admitted to a treatment facility, which prevented him (under Virginia law) from buying or possessing a firearm until that right was restored by a court. Under Virginia law, his right to buy or possess a firearm was never restored by a court. Despite this, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office hired him as a deputy and provided him with a service firearm.
Taylor & Ring, an award-winning California-based trial law firm, represents plaintiffs across California in high-impact civil rights, personal injury, wrongful death, sexual assault, abuse and harassment matters.