LAYTON — It's been a year since Dallas Buttars' Subway sandwich shop received international attention after an employee was accused of putting drugs in a police officer's drink.
But he says his store still hasn't recovered, even though the employee was cleared of any wrongdoing.
"We lost business and I believe we continue to lose it today," he said Wednesday.
"I’ve been told by several people that the only way we’re going to recover is we’re going to have to move our location because it’s going to be known as ‘the store that drugged the cop,’” added co-owner Kristin Myers.
The owners, along with their attorney Robert Sykes, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit late Tuesday against Layton and its police department for defamation, alleging that they released information to the public that they knew was false. As a result, the business lost money and employees due to the firestorm of negative publicity it created.
Sykes said the actions of the city and police department were "astonishingly outrageous."
"I don't think Layton City still understands the gravity of what they’ve done here,” he said.
On Aug. 8, 2016, a Layton police officer, who has never been publicly identified, went to the drive-thru at the restaurant, 1142 E. state Route 193. The officer claims shortly after taking a sip of his drink he became ill. When the officer arrived at Davis Hospital and Medical Center, he reported feeling signs of being intoxicated.
Tanis Ukena, then 18, was the employee who served him the drink. Originally, police reported that an ion scanner test indicated meth and THC, the active ingredient of marijuana, were in a sample of the drink Ukena filled. A separate test also "tested positive for narcotics," according to the department. Ukena was arrested a short time later.
The employee quickly became a target of scathing ridicule on social media from people across the nation and received numerous threats. The owners said they immediately noticed a drop in business and their store became stigmatized in the community.
But a search by police of the restaurant, Ukena himself and his car turned up nothing. Test results from the Utah State Crime Lab completed two months later showed no evidence of any drugs in the drink. But by then, half a dozen of the Subway's employees had quit, including a manager, longtime customers stopped coming and people believed the owners "ran a shoddy operation that hired people who would poison the drink of an officer," the suit alleges.
In October, Layton police announced that Ukena was cleared of any wrongdoing and would not be charged.
In their lawsuit, the owners contend that Layton police and their spokesman, Sgt. Clint Brobowski, knew early in the investigation that the evidence wasn't supporting the claims that were made, but he gave interviews to the media anyway, giving "considerable false information" and leaving out key facts, including no drugs being found.
"It's astonishing that they would be so callous, so thoughtless," Sykes said.
"This last year has been the worst year of my life here," Myers said.
Layton City Attorney Gary Crane said Wednesday the officers did nothing wrong and that he was "very surprised" by the lawsuit.
"We stand behind our police officers 100 percent. I’ve gone over all of the evidence and the officers did their jobs in protecting not only the public, but individual businesses like Subway,” he said.
The officers acted on probable cause, and when test results later came back negative, Ukena was cleared, he said.
When asked whether officers should have waited for more evidence before arresting Ukena, Crane said police wanted to protect the public.
"It’s easy to second-guess and say, 'You should’ve done this and you should’ve done that.’ But at the time, they had some very severe consequences, and if it hadn’t been an officer, if it had been somebody else in the restaurant, they would have gone through the same analysis, same investigation," Crane said. "Our police officers acted exactly the way they should have. They investigated everything."
Sykes said it wasn't the police investigation that was the problem. It was defaming the restaurant.
"Don’t go on the air and say they committed this horrible crime and this Subway and these people are lax owners because they hire people that put drugs in peoples’ drinks. Don’t do that. That’s the wrong. Not the investigation. If they want to take two months and do that, that’s fine. Don’t keep these people on the hook and don’t keep the public in ignorance for two months," he said. "They may have had probable cause to arrest him. But they didn’t have license to defame him or other people, especially in light of what they knew. Especially in light of what they knew when they defamed him. They knew that there were no drugs found."
Ukena, who is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, is currently serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, something that was delayed because of his arrest and the investigation. When asked why Ukena was not part of the lawsuit, the normally talkative Sykes simply responded, "It’s resolved is all I’m going to say."
Sykes said he "represented" Ukena and his family, but he did not say whether any litigation was filed on behalf of the family.
Crane said the officer who was "signficantly impaired" on that day, still works for the department. As of Wednesday, Crane said investigators still don't know what caused his illness.