Here we go again, as a this time a Medical Examiner lab analyst has been arrested with narcotics allegedly ripped off from his own lab, and as many as 2,500 cases could be tainted.
One of our favorite running “jokes” on SFist (from a while back) was a 2010 stolen cocaine incident, which turned out was a series of incidents, involving a woman whom we called the Cokey Crime Lab Worker who pilfered bags of blow from the SFPD evidence stash and snorted the evidence herself. While the dust has settled on that story, ten years later we have another scandal along the same line. The Chronicle broke a bombshell story this weekend that another Medical Examiner analyst was arrested with a bag of methamphetamine allegedly stolen from evidence kept in the examiner’s lab — a potentially wide-reaching development that could affect many of this technician’s “2,500 cases in the past eight years with the medical examiner’s office, including 500 death investigations and toxicology testing for 1,200 sexual assaults and 800 DUIs.”
NEW: A lab analyst for the SFME’s office was arrested in Utah after being found with an evidence bag of meth.— Megan Cassidy (@meganrcassidy) September 11, 2020
In the past 8 years, he’s handled approx. 2,500 cases out of SF — including one that resulted in a homicide conviction. https://t.co/2bshFeDF8U
Certainly everyone deserves the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, but the story of 40-year-old medical examiner's analyst Justin Volk’s arrest in Utah is full of some odd and upsetting details. Per the Chronicle, Volk was driving 16 miles per hour over the speed limit on Old Highway 91 in Ivins, Utah on August 31. When pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy, that officer observed a curious backpack, lunchbox, and a bottle “with what appeared to be urine inside.” A K-9 dog sniffed drugs, and the officer conducted a search which turned up a Medical Examiner evidence bag that contained “large crystal looking item” that they say lab tests have confirmed as meth, and two pipes that the sheriffs claim are “usually consistent with smoking methamphetamine.” The Chronicle says police also found “14 pills later identified as acetaminophen and hydrocodone.”
The Examiner adds that “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."
But this is not at all funny to District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who now sees thousands of prosecutions and convictions that could potentially be overturned over Volk’s alleged dipping into the stash bags. Volk has been a lab analyst with the Medical Examiner’s Office for 13 years, according to the Chron, and has been responsible for testing and preserving evidence in more than 2,500 investigations.
Boudin’s counterpart, public defender Mano Raju, is jumping at the opportunity to question the city's chain of custody with evidence. “My office will be seeking records on Mr. Volk from the ME’s office and demanding an independent audit of the ME’s office,” Raju said in a statement to the Chronicle. “Justice simply cannot happen when the medical examiner’s employees — tasked with providing objective and unbiased scientific evidence and opinion — lack integrity.”
Raju’s office already had tension with the Medical Examiner's Office over their extremely questionable handling of his predecessor Jeff Adachi’s autopsy details. Boudin is asking the mayor and Board of Supervisors for more than $450,000 to review all of Volk’s cases. It’s currently unclear how many of Volk’s cases involved criminal charges (and he did not have access to drugs from the crime lab, he investigated cases involving dead bodies and DUI prosecutions), but Boudin is conducting a review of that as well.
Volk is out on $10,000 bail, and is charged in Washington County, Utah with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Photo via drugabuse.gov