A lab worker from the Medical Examiner’s Office was arrested with an evidence bag of methamphetamine in August. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

A lab worker from the Medical Examiner’s Office was arrested with an evidence bag of methamphetamine in August. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Audit over lab worker meth arrest finds medical examiner is missing drugs

An audit of the Medical Examiner’s Office prompted by the arrest of a lab worker who was allegedly caught with an evidence bag of methamphetamine has found that some evidence is missing from the office’s drug inventory.

The Controller’s Office launched the audit last month in response to the Aug. 31 arrest of Justin Volk, 40, who was allegedly driving in Utah when authorities pulled him over and found the evidence bag along with illicit drugs.

At the time of his arrest, authorities in Utah had not confirmed whether the evidence bag came from San Francisco.

But the bag was marked “evidence” and contained a large crystal as well as smaller bags with a crystalized substance and white powder, according to police records from the arrest. It also had a slip of paper inside from the Medical Examiner’s Office.

The audit released Thursday found two drug evidence bags that were supposed to contain “crystal” or “crystalline” substances are missing.

The seals on another 10 bags were “either missing or compromised, indicating that some or all of the drugs that were in these bags were removed or may have been removed,” the audit found.

The audit does not come to a conclusion about how the drugs went missing or mention Volk.

While some 99 percent of the 1,738 drug evidence bags in the inventory were accounted for, the audit concluded, “the department has inadequate controls to manage its drug evidence and department policy does not require regular review of its drug evidence inventory.”

The controller made a series of recommendations to the Medical Examiner’s Office including policy and procedure changes. The audit also recommended the office investigate all missing and unsealed drug evidence.

In response, the Medical Examiner’s Office said it had investigated and that “all unsealed or improperly packaged items have been addressed.” The office did not specify the findings of that investigation. It has also begun revising policies.

Public Defender Manohar Raju, who has raised concerns about leadership and accreditation issues at the Medical Examiner’s Office, argued that the audit confirms the reasons behind his lack of trust in the office.

“Clearly, their security protocols around handling evidence have been lax, which means that an untold number of criminal cases have likely been compromised by their carelessness,” Raju said. “People are likely in jail or prison based on unreliable evidence.”

A longtime forensic lab analyst, Volk helped test and collect evidence in death, sexual assault and other investigations.

His arrest touched off the audit as well as a review by the District Attorney’s Office to determine whether he may have tainted any of the more than 2,500 cases he played a role in over the last 13 years.

Volk was booked on suspicion of drug charges and has a pending criminal case out of Washington County, Utah.

He was placed on administrative leave shortly after the arrest and is no longer employed by the office, according to an internal email obtained by the San Francisco Examiner. A spokesperson for the City Administrator’s Office, which oversees the Medical Examiner’s Office, said Volk has been “released.”

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

This story has been updated to include additional comments and information.


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