SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has tossed a suit from owners of a Layton Subway sandwich shop who said police defamed them when they accused a teen employee of spiking an officer's drink.
Co-owners of the shop had argued that Layton police released information they knew was false, feeding negative publicity, forcing business to drop and leading workers to quit, even though the employee later was cleared of wrongdoing.
U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson in a Thursday decision sided against the shop owners, writing that their argument failed to prove that police violated their constitutional rights.
"No matter how much the plaintiffs now want to make more of the story than the facts allow, this is simply a case involving news of an arrest based on reasonable suspicion and of a person facing the possibility of criminal charges," Benson wrote.
He said the suit contained no proof that officers meant to give bad information to the news media.
"From beginning to end it was at most a case of a negligent police investigation," Benson added, which doesn't amount to a violation of constitutional rights on the part of the public employees.
Robert Sykes, the attorney for co-owners Dallas Buttars and Kristin Myers, argued Layton police and their spokesman, Sgt. Clint Brobowski, knew early in the investigation that evidence wasn't supporting the claims but gave interviews to the media anyway, releasing "considerable false information" and leaving out key facts, including that police swept the restaurant, the suspect and his car but turned up no drugs. Test results from the Utah State Crime Lab completed two months later showed no evidence of any drugs in the drink.
But by then, six employees had quit, including a manager, and regulars abandoned the shop, Sykes alleged.
"The business was clearly defamed," Sykes said Thursday, saying business at the restaurant had plunged 30 percent and that officers deceived the public, "knowing they'd found nothing."
The judge wrote that police didn't suggest Subway was negligent in hiring the employee or that the shop participated in what was initially thought to be a poisoning, but they did say the restaurant was cooperating with their investigation.
The officer who believed his drink was drugged has never been identified. He said he ordered from the Subway drive-thru at 1142 E. state Route 193 on Aug. 8, 2016. He became ill shortly after taking a sip and went to a hospital, reporting he felt sick and intoxicated.
Originally, police said an ion scanner test on the drink indicated meth and THC, the marijuana component that produces a high, and that another test revealed narcotics.8 comments on this story
Subway worker Tanis Ukena, then 18, served the drink. Layton City Attorney Gary Crane has said officers acted on probable cause, and when further test results later came back negative, they cleared Ukena.
Still, after his arrest, Ukena became the target of scathing ridicule and threats on social media. He was not a plaintiff in the suit dismissed Thursday.
Police cleared him of wrongdoing in October 2016, and he reached a $50,000 out-of-court settlement with Layton.
The judge on Thursday also dropped the owners' claim against Layton, saying the facts didn't show that city policies, practices or customs were a "moving force" behind the behavior they said violated their rights.