Layton Subway officer 'drugging' case: Anatomy of the investigation

Sunday , December 18, 2016 - 12:00 AM22 comments

MARK SHENEFELT, Standard-Examiner Staff

LAYTON — The Subway worker handed the Layton police sergeant his Spicy Italian sandwich, oatmeal cookie, Cheetos and pomegranate lemonade through the drive-up window and told him, “Have a nice day, officer.”

The officer drove a few miles, pulled over and ate the meal, then took three sips of the lemonade.

“It tasted really, really weird,” the officer later told an investigator.

Soon, the officer felt “dizzy, hyper-vigilant, disconnected, had pain in his chest and stomach, felt ‘warm inside’ and could not feel his legs,” a detective’s report said. 

Based on his sudden symptoms, an investigation into a possible poisoning or drugging began.

On that hot afternoon Aug. 8, Layton police descended on the Subway, collecting lemonade samples, interviewing employees, looking at surveillance video and using drug-sniffing dogs to scour the restaurant and employees’ cars.

About six hours later, 18-year-old Tanis Lloyd Ukena — the worker who’d given the Layton sergeant his food — was booked into the Davis County Jail on suspicion of surreptitious administering of poisonous substances, a second-degree felony.

The story caught national attention. It was talked about on Fox News, and versions of the story describing a Utah teen who allegedly poisoned a police officer appeared on countless websites. 

In mid-October, charges against Ukena were dropped. Further tests from state crime lab analysts did not show drugs or other foreign substances in the lemonade.

Ukena, holder of an early-college associate’s degree, is now on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Despite the case being dropped, the Eagle Scout’s public reputation had taken a beating. His mother, Heather, said it sounded like an April Fool’s joke when police said her son was in jail. The family has mentioned the possibility of bringing a lawsuit against Layton police.

RELATED: Layton Subway employee did not drug officer's lemonade, officials confirm

The officer, an eight-year veteran of the Layton force, is back on duty, with no evidence found of illegal drugs in his body or any other indication of a potential cause for the symptoms he experienced. He received repeated blood and urine tests and a physical in the wake of the incident and a cause for the strange symptoms was not found, according to reports from the investigation.

In the aftermath of the incident, unanswered questions left many wondering how such a mistake could have been made and it is yet to be known how the incident will affect Ukena and his family.

With the public release of 50 pages of police investigative files and lab results, some light can finally be shed on various factors that led officers to arrest Ukena, but at the same time, the records also paint a portrait of Ukena as an unlikely perpetrator of an attack on a police officer.

MORE: An expert looks over the Ukena case and analyzes what went right and wrong in the investigation.

THE SERGEANT’S ILLNESS

The officer who became ill has not been identified by Layton police. His name was also redacted from all reports obtained in an open-records request.

Assistant City Attorney Steven Garside said the officer’s name is withheld because the case delves heavily into his medical condition. To publicly identify him would be a violation of federal privacy law, Garside said.

After getting his order at the Subway on State Road 193, the officer drove east, then south on U.S. 89 and parked in a turnout at the Adams Canyon trailhead. He finished the meal, then took a drink of lemonade.

“The first sip … he described as ‘weird,’” Detective Kelly Rushton said in a supplemental investigative report. “He said he didn’t know if the drink was rotten or bad, but it tasted spoiled.”

The second sip tasted “funky,” and the third sip was “really, really weird,” the report said. The officer detected a chemical taste and took off the lid, saying the drink smelled strange.

A few minutes later the strange symptoms set in.

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The officer decided to drive to the police station. On the way, he had trouble pressing the brake pedal at a red light, said the main incident report, filed by Lt. Alexander Davis. 

At the office, Davis said the officer told him he thought “he had been administered a narcotic and-or poison.” The officer described feeling “effects similar to drug intoxication,” Davis said.

Davis drove the officer to a WorkMed clinic. Blood and urine samples were taken and the officer was then driven to Davis Hospital for observation and more tests.

A blood test screening for 11 types of drugs was conducted at the hospital. All blood and urine tests came back negative, including follow-up tests later, police reports said.

The officer was also questioned about his diet over the previous few days. Nothing suspect came up.

So, what happened to the officer?

Layton police spokesman Lt. Travis Lyman said in a recent interview, “Nothing has changed from our perspective, as much as we would like it to.”

Working with medical personnel, Lyman said Layton police examined every possibility to explain why the officer got sick.

“It was inferred that he lied, made it up, targeted the individual,” Lyman said. “The fact of the matter is our officer got sick. That was not a lie. He was ill, immediately after consuming a meal at Subway.”

Lyman added, “We pursued and considered and examined any theory we could think of. Our officer has had numerous follow-up appointments and tests with his doctor. They are still doing tests to rule out any medical reasons for what has happened.”

“We were not and are not solely focused on that (the Subway lemonade) being the only possibility.”

Randall Richards, the Ukena family’s attorney, ventured one idea.

“My theory is that he was paranoid, took a drink... and it’s possible he just thought something was wrong with this drink, his mind takes over and it’s a reverse placebo effect,” Richards said.

TRACE DRUG TESTS

While other officers, including two with drug-sniffing dogs, investigated the Subway, Sgt. Clint Bobrowski and two other officers back at the police department ran trace tests on the lemonade from the ill officer’s cup.

Bobrowski ran a Marquis quick-check test, which seeks to identify any traces of heroin, morphine, codeine, methamphetamine or amphetamines.

“I noticed an immediate color change to orange, then to brown, then to a black color,” Bobrowski reported. “According to the testing results this is a positive indication for either methamphetamine, amphetamine or ecstasy.”

Officer Jessica Thompson was standing by with the IonScan 400B machine, a $35,000 device that checks for traces of narcotics. The scan of another lemonade sample “gave a positive identification for methamphetamine and hash,” Bobrowski’s report said.

Detective John Ottesen repeated the tests the following day, with similar results, he said in his report.

The lemonade was then sent to the Utah Bureau of Forensic Services — the state crime lab — for in-depth testing.

Meantime, trace testing is controversial. Ion Mobility Spectrometers, such as the IonScan, have spotty detection records and can produce false positives. (See accompanying story for more.)

UKENA IN CUSTODY

Sgt. Todd Derrick arrived at the Subway and Rushton asked him to observe the male employees.

Drug dogs indicated trace possibilities on one vehicle in the parking lot and two old hoodies in the back of the restaurant. But no drugs were found in the store or on any employees.

Rushton and Derrick reviewed the store’s video surveillance, watching Ukena filling the officer’s drink order.

Derrick noted the video quality was not very sharp. “But it seems as though Tanis spends an inordinate amount of time with the drink, handling it and not just filling up the drink as a normal drink would be filled up,” his report said. “Detective Rushton and I decided to interview Tanis back at the police department due to his suspicious nature in which he handled (the officer’s) drink.”

In his report, Rushton also described what he saw Ukena doing on the video.

“Tanis is seen doing something with the drink from 12:20:31 (p.m.) to 12:20:48, which seems an unusual amount of time,” Rushton wrote. “Tanis then backs away from the fountain area with the drink in hand. Tanis then throws something in the garbage” before delivering the meal.

Story continues below photo.

Rushton and Derrick drove Ukena to the police station at 4 p.m. They took him into an interview room and told him he was a suspect and read him his Miranda rights. They asked him if he was willing to talk to them. Rushton said Ukena paused for more than 20 seconds, then said yes.

“I told Tanis that the first question I had for him was ‘Why,’” Rushton wrote.

“Why, what,” Ukena asked.

Rushton said tests showed there were drugs in the drink, and he asked again, “Why?”

“There is no why,” Ukena responded. “I didn’t do it.”

“I then said the officer had drugs in his system and I asked what other conclusions could we make,” Rushton wrote.

Ukena again denied spiking the drink. Rushton asked why he walked away from the drink at one point and took more time than usual to fill it. Ukena said he “probably stood there for a minute because the drink didn’t fill all the way,” Rushton wrote.

“He then told me that he remembered the lid to the lemonade had ‘popped’ and he had to fix the lid before he served the drink,” Rushton said.

Rushton asked several more questions about how Ukena filled the order. Then Derrick “asked Tanis where he got the drugs,” Rushton’s report said. “Tanis answered that he had never touched drugs in his life.”

The officers asked Ukena for permission to search his vehicle at Subway and he said no because that was his right. He then asked for legal representation.

Ukena was taken to a holding cell and gave permission for blood and hair samples to be collected.

“After talking about the situation with everyone involved, it was determined based on the ION Scanner and the video surveillance that Tanis did, in fact, do something to (the officer’s) drink and we decided to arrest him for administering some type of poisons to (the officer’s) drink,” Derrick wrote in his report.

Ukena was handcuffed at 6:10 p.m. and driven to the Davis County Jail. Bond was posted later and he was released.

Police obtained a warrant and searched Ukena’s Dodge Neon. No drugs were found.

In the following days, detectives interviewed Ukena’s co-workers and bosses.

Rushton again reviewed the surveillance video, this time with Subway franchise owner Dallas Buttars and manager Kristin Myers.

“Both Kristin and Dallas said they believed that Tanis must have overfilled the drink or had some difficulty with the lid and spilled some of the drink,” Rushton wrote. “It was their belief that Tanis went to the food prep area and was grabbing napkins to clean up the drink before giving it to (the officer).”

Rushton asked Ukena’s two coworkers about Ukena, who described him as “church-going, nice” and someone always nice to customers and happy. Both said they couldn’t imagine Ukena committing the crime.

Efforts to contact Ukena’s parents were unsuccessful. Their attorney did not return additional phone calls.

CRIME LAB CONCLUSION

In an Oct. 6 letter to Layton Police Chief Allen Swanson, state senior forensic scientist Bryan Holden said no typical controlled substances, such as methamphetamine or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, were found by the state crime lab. But further tests were run on preliminary indications of a possible foreign substance.

“At that point I didn’t know if this substance was a new synthetic drug or something else,” Holden said.

But after continued testing, the unknown substance was also found in a “clean” sample of lemonade collected at the Subway, he said.

“This means that the foreign substance probably originated from the lemonade and is not an unknown scheduled substance, such as a synthetic drug,” Holden said.

Detective Rushton filed a final supplemental report Oct. 11.

“With the State Lab not being able to identify what, if any, substance was in the drink given to (the officer), this investigation is now closed,” he wrote.

Lyman said there was no formal internal affairs investigation conducted by the department.

“This case was so significant from our perspective and has received so much examination internally and from the outside,” Lyman said.

Any intra-department probe must be initiated by the chief “if there is some indication of misconduct, even an allegation, and that was never a factor in this case,” Lyman said. “So it was not a formal internal affairs investigation, but it amounted to one in the course of simply investigating it.

“All along we certainly wish we could express our perspective and our story and our version of what happened more thoroughly but the dynamics just don’t allow that right now,” he said, referring to threats of a possible lawsuit against them. 

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEmarkshenefelt.

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