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LAYTON — Tanis Ukena rarely left his Layton neighborhood or even his home for about two months. "It's scary to go out in public when you're receiving death threats and stuff online," he told reporters Tuesday. Ukena, 18, quickly became a target of scathing ridicule on social media from people across the nation when Layton police arrested him in August, accusing him of lacing an officer's drink with THC. On Tuesday, Layton police said Ukena will not be charged after test results came back negative for illegal substances. Police initially claimed a surveillance video from the Subway where Ukena worked showed the incident unfold Aug. 8 when the officer used the drive-thru at the restaurant, 1142 E. state Route 193. The officer became seriously ill after consuming part of a drink and eating some of a sandwich. Ukena said he and his co-workers, knowing none of them would poison a police officer, cooperated with law enforcement as they examined the restaurant "for an hour or two." He said he was stunned when police arrested him and booked him into jail. “I went into shock,” said Ukena, who was arrested for investigation of surreptitious administration of a substance, a second-degree felony. “I couldn’t really comprehend anything the rest of the night.” Ukena said he's “more disappointed than angered” at the way Layton police handled the case, though “definitely initially there was anger.” “I was disappointed to see how the investigation was handled,” he said. “It’d be nice to see them come out and say, 'Hey, we made a mistake. We’re sorry.'" Originally, police reported that an ion scanner test indicated meth and THC were in a sample of the drink Ukena filled. A separate test also "tested positive for narcotics," the department said. It wasn't immediately clear whether those narcotics detected in the second test were separate from the methamphetamine and THC allegedly found in the drink. When the officer arrived at Davis Hospital and Medical Center, he reported feeling signs of being intoxicated. But Utah State Crime Lab tests were "unable to confirm that contaminates were in the officer's drink," according to a statement from Layton police. "Several weeks ago, lab personnel notified our department of the presence of a foreign substance in the officer’s drink. This information led to further testing by the state lab in an effort to duplicate and confirm the results. The initial test results could not be duplicated," the statement continued. "The Layton Police Department would like to thank Subway for their complete cooperation. The department would also like to express our appreciation for the patience of Tanis and his family during this investigation." Layton Police Lt. Travis Lyman said officers met with both Subway representatives and Ukena's family Tuesday morning. The news release, Lyman said, "is the only statement we are prepared to make at this time." Police did not say whether they still believe the officer's drink was contaminated, and they didn't offer an alternative explanation for what may have made the officer sick. The department noted in its news release that "investigators were also cognizant that there may have been other potential causes for the officer's condition, and so (they) began to simultaneously investigate other possibilities, with extensive medical testing of the officer." After Ukena was arrested, the story spread quickly on social media and the backlash was severe. "We hope this punk will spend some time in jail," wrote a law enforcement group. "(I) hope it is a long time before you see the outside of a cell," wrote another. Several wrote that Ukena should be charged with attempted murder. "I hope they put him so far in prison he can't see daylight," wrote another. Some people called for a boycott of Subway.
Ukena, an Eagle Scout who was three credits away from completing his associate degree while in high school, said the backlash worries him even now that his name has been cleared. He wonders whether it will scare away prospective future employers. "It definitely has been a worry that this is going to affect me for years to come," he said. Because of the allegations, Ukena had to push back a planned mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Utica, New York, by about six weeks. He's now scheduled to report to the Missionary Training Center on Nov. 9. Ukena said his family and friends stood by him, believing he was innocent. He also turned to his LDS Church faith for comfort. “It’s been like a spiritual experience for me. … I’ve been tested,” he said. Subway “treated me very well” during the two-month ordeal, Ukena added. He plans to resume his job there now that the case is resolved. Randall Richards, Ukena's attorney, criticized the police investigation Tuesday, saying none of the allegations added up. "The officer's description was really impossible" with regard to being poisoned by methamphetamine or THC, Richards said. The officer described being affected "within seconds," the attorney said, which would have been a virtually impossible reaction time. He also said the described symptoms didn't line up with the effects of the drugs. Several Layton police officers who are extensively trained in narcotics and their effects were available to help with the investigation, Richards said. "Yet not one of them saw the red flags," he said. Richards also noted that Ukena's car was searched, along with the restaurant and garbage cans. Not so much as a drug baggy or vial was ever located, he said, and the restaurant's surveillance footage showed Ukena's actions for "100 percent" of the period of time in question. Richards believes police put too much stock in the ion scanner test, which he says is "notorious for … false positives for meth and THC." "I don't know that we can ever undo that damage that's been done (to Ukena)," he said. The Ukena family is considering a lawsuit as an option, Richards said, but they haven't yet committed to any legal action. Ukena’s parents said they also would like to see an apology from Layton police, but they didn’t receive one Tuesday. His mother, Heather Ukena, said she would like to see more than a news release from the agency about the exoneration of her son. “They were certainly willing to go on camera to condemn him,” she said. Heather Ukena became emotional as she went on to describe the disbelief and shock of finding out her son, who had turned 18 just days earlier, had been been booked into an adult jail on $10,000 bail. He was bailed out late that night. She called the next several weeks as "a living nightmare" for the family. "It was no sleep at all, confusion, lack of information," she said. Tanis Ukena's father, Landy Ukena, said his son’s case highlights the obligation police have to be more conscientious in their investigations. “I’d like to see that the police departments are more cautious, more thorough and even (exercise) more compassionate outreach," he said. The family never doubted Tanis Ukena's innocence, his father added. "He's never been in any trouble before," he said.