The Controller’s Office plans to review the Medical Examiner’s Office inventory to determine whether all drug evidence “is present, properly sealed in bags, securely stored and accounted for in the log” after the arrest of a lay analyst. ( S.F. Examiner / 2016 Jessica Christian)

Arrest of Medical Examiner analyst with evidence bag of meth prompts reviews

City officials are seeking to determine whether criminal cases have been jeopardized and drug evidence is missing after a longtime lab analyst was arrested with an evidence bag of suspected methamphetamine while driving in another state.

The Aug. 31 arrest of 40-year-old Justin Volk in Utah has prompted the District Attorney’s Office to begin reviewing all cases Volk has played a role in and may have tainted as a Medical Examiner’s Office forensic laboratory analyst of 13 years.

Volk has helped test, collect and preserve evidence in more than 2,500 law enforcement investigations including 500 death, 1,200 sexual assault and 800 driving under-the-influence investigations, according to District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

“The alleged misconduct here may have far reaching implications that bear on important questions of guilt or innocence for the accused and for the victims of crime,” Boudin wrote Friday in a letter to city officials.

Meanwhile, the Controller’s Office plans to review the Medical Examiner’s Office inventory to determine whether all drug evidence “is present, properly sealed in bags, securely stored and accounted for in the log.” That assessment may be expanded to review the policies and procedures of the office if anything is out of order.

“Justice simply cannot happen when the Medical Examiner’s employees — tasked with providing objective and unbiased scientific evidence and opinion — lack integrity,” said Public Defender Mano Raju.

Raju said the arrest casts a “dark shadow” on the credibility of the Medical Examiner’s Office and requested both reviews.

The San Francisco Chronicle first reported the arrest.

Volk was allegedly speeding in the city of Ivins, Utah when a deputy with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office pulled him over in the early morning, according to sheriff’s records obtained by the San Francisco Examiner.

The deputy asked Volk to step out of the car after noticing a “lunchbox on the passenger seat, some drinks and a bottle with what appeared to be urine inside.”

Volk was detained when a police dog at the scene sniffed the car and “indicated a positive.” Authorities then searched the vehicle and found a piece of luggage containing a bag marked “evidence.”

“Inside of the marked evidence bag, which was sealed, there was a large crystal looking item, some smaller bags of crystallized substance and another small bag with a white powder substance,” a deputy wrote. “Also inside of the bag was a piece of paper inside that was from the [Medical Examiner’s Office].”

Authorities also found two pipes “usually consistent with smoking methamphetamine” and a bottle of pills containing the opioid hydrocodone.

Volk was arrested and placed in the back of a patrol car when he began “banging his head against the window.” He was found unresponsive but determined to be breathing and not injured.

He was booked on suspicion of felony possession with intent to distribute, felony drug possession, misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia and an infraction for speeding.

Jail records show he was released from custody that evening. The Examiner could not immediately reach Washington County prosecutors to confirm whether Volk is formally facing charges.

Volk did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

A spokesperson for City Administrator Naomi Kelly, who oversees the Medical Examiner’s Office, confirmed that Volk has been placed on administrative leave.

The spokesperson, Bill Barnes, said Kelly asked the Controller’s Office to “conduct a thorough review of the evidence process to determine the impact of this situation.”

The Controller’s Office is expected to review the Medical Examiner’s Office later this month and provide an update of its findings by mid-October.

In his letter Friday, Boudin said “we believe that the controlled substances in his car may have been taken from the custody” of the Medical Examiner’s Office.

He wrote to Mayor London Breed and Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee to seek nearly $456,000 in funding for his office to review all cases involving Volk.

“SFDA must immediately individually review every case that this analyst was involved in to ensure that no conviction or punishment has been improperly tainted,” Boudin said. “In addition, SFDA expects a surge in appellate filings and requests for new trials that will have a significant workload impact on current resources.”

mbarba@sfexaminer.com



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