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San Francisco Forensic Analyst’s Arrest on Drug Charges Exposes Flawed Lab

This alleged misconduct was uncovered after the August 31, 2020, arrest of Volk for possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute in Utah. According to the arrest report, the drugs seized by police were contained in a bag marked “evidence,” which also contained an OCME identifier.

Prosecutors, judges, and juries rely upon the official test reports from the OCME laboratory to determine the guilt or innocence of individuals charged with drug crimes.

Public defender Mano Raju said to the San Francisco Examiner, “It’s disturbing that we’re still relying on the San Francisco medical examiner’s office to inform criminal cases after years – if not decades – of poor protocols that have led to a loss of national accreditation, substandard work product, and a lack of transparency. Justice simply cannot happen when the medical examiner’s employees – tasked with providing objective and unbiased scientific evidence and opinion – lack integrity.” 

According to the statement of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, Volk participated in hundreds of criminal cases, and that might only reflect a third of the cases he worked on in his 13 years with OCME, Raju said.

Volk played a key role at the testing facility, where he was responsible for receiving, analyzing, and preserving drug samples and other evidence. According to the district attorney, “Mr. Volk is estimated to have played a role in the testing, collection, and preservation of evidence in more than 2,500 law enforcement investigations.”
The affected cases since 2007 include an estimated 500 death investigations, 1,200 sexual-assault incidents, and approximately 800 driving under the influence arrests.

Raju has been critical of OCME’s operations for years and sent a seven-page letter to the mayor complaining of continuing problems with the office prior to Volk’s arrest. 

According to Boudin, “My office has acted with great urgency in responding to the allegations against Justin Volk, and we have prioritized working to review all convictions in cases in which he was involved.”

The Office of Public Defender has been tasked with a continuing analysis of all of the cases connected to Volk and assessing which closed and current criminal cases might have been affected by the allegations. It has the potential to affect hundreds of criminal convictions and the granting of new trials.

Volk, who was terminated from his position with OCME, was freed on $10,000 bail in connection with the Utah charges.

He also is under investigation by the San Francisco State’s Attorney’s Office. The DA’s website links to a spreadsheet listing “resolved prosecutions” that may have involved Volk. 

 

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