CLEARFIELD — Months after a Layton 18-year-old was accused of drugging a police officer’s drink at Subway, law enforcement officials said he didn’t commit the crime — a fact that has his family considering a lawsuit.
Police said they won’t pursue charges against Tanis Lloyd Ukena, a Subway employee who was booked into jail Aug. 8 on one count of surreptitious administering of a poisonous substance, a second-degree felony. A state crime lab found there were no drugs present in the drink, police announced Tuesday, Oct. 11.
At a press conference at the Clearfield office of his attorney, Randall Richards, Ukena said he will return to work at Subway until November, when he’ll leave to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New York.
“From the get-go, my client has denied any wrongdoing for good reason. He did nothing wrong,” Richards said.
A Layton City police officer called emergency dispatchers Aug. 8 after going through the Subway drive-thru where Ukena worked, 1142 E. Route 193 in Layton. The officer said he’d taken several sips of his drink, felt like he had been drugged and had difficulty braking at an intersection, according to court documents.
State crime lab personnel initially told investigators there was a “presence of a foreign substance in the officer's drink,” according to a news release from Layton police. However, further testing meant to confirm the results did not find any contaminates in the officer’s drink, the statement says.
“The police used a cheap test that showed methamphetamine and THC in the drink,” Richards said. “The officer’s symptoms did not correlate with the drugs, and that should have raised some red flags.”
According to the release, the officer went through three urine and blood tests that indicated there were no drugs in his system. Furthermore, exams ruled out anything was medically wrong with the officer.
At the press conference, Ukena said he’s still “pro-police,” but his eyes were opened to the fact that others accused of crimes they didn’t commit might never be set free.
“I still believe in the justice system, but it has put thought into mind, it got me thinking about the Innocence Project,” Ukena said, referring to a public policy organization dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted. “I’ve been lucky that there’s been proof to exonerate me, but there are other people I realize who are going through that situation ... there are innocent people who are imprisoned or even put on death row.”
His father, Landy Ukena, said he hopes the incident would help police better serve the community.
“Obviously there’s some unrest out there, and anything (police) can do — even admitting mistakes when they happen — would refresh the public that, ‘We’re people trying to do a job and do our best.’
“I’d like to see that police departments are more cautious, more thorough, and even more outreach and compassion for the people they serve,” Landy Ukena said.
Richards said Tuesday police hadn’t apologized to Ukena or his family for the incident, which consumed the teen’s life for two months. Since he was accused of the crime, Ukena has received death threats and couldn’t find work.
“No apology today,” Richards said. “They did say they felt bad for Tanis, but no ‘Hey, we’re sorry, we screwed up.’”
His mother, Heather Ukena, wasn’t hopeful such an apology would come.
“They were certainly willing to go on camera to condemn him, so it would be nice to have them go on camera to admit that they made a mistake. We don’t expect that to happen,” she said.
Despite being afraid to leave his house, Tanis said his friends have been supportive, as has Subway.
Originally, police said a surveillance video showed Ukena leaving the drink in question, then returning after “an unusual amount of time.” However, on Tuesday Ukena said surveillance footage from other cameras showed he was grabbing a napkin to wipe the outside of the cup.
“Subway owners were very supportive from day one. The day after, they went down to the police station with those video tapes and went through them with police frame by frame and said, ‘Hey, this is exactly what happened.’
“The owners of the store ... were like, ‘You’re not fired, you have your job, as soon as this is cleared up, you can come back.’”
Dallas K. Buttars, owner of the Subway restaurant where Ukena works, spoke to the Standard-Examiner before the press conference, saying business has slowed and employees have quit because of the incident’s publicity.
“Our main concern was to get Tanis off on his mission,” Buttars said, adding he’s had “a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of stress, a lot of anger” over the accusations made concerning his young employee.
Both Tanis Ukena and Richards expressed concern the accusations will come up any time someone searches for his name online for jobs, school applications or anything else, but that hopefully stories of his innocence will also come up.
“I would like to see some compensation,” Tanis Ukena said regarding the possibility of litigation, “but like my attorney said, we’re still considering our options in that regard.”
For now, his mission to Utica, New York, is back on track after a six-week delay.
“As I’m leaving on my mission, it’s been a nice experience for me ... moving forward with the gospel and the LDS Church, it’s been like a spiritual experience for me, that I’ve been tested.”
Standard-Examiner reporters Brett Hein, Loretta Park and Sarah Welliver contributed to this report.