Questions raised about test in closed officer-drugged case

Questions raised about test in closed officer-drugged case

(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News, File)

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OGDEN, Utah (AP) — A lawyer for a Subway worker cleared of allegations that he drugged a police officer's drink has raised questions about police reliance on a rapid-result drug-detection test following the release of police documents on the investigation.

Worker Tanis Ukena, 18, was arrested in the headline-making case this summer after a Layton Police drug-testing machine indicated the presence of methamphetamine and THC in the lemonade. He was cleared months later after subsequent tests found no drugs in the drink or the officer's system, but said the damage to his reputation lingered. The arrest came amid growing animosity and distrust of police around the country in the wake of a number of officer-involved shootings.

Police reports released to the Ogden Standard-Examiner show the results came from a desktop rapid-result device called IonScan 400B that costs between $35,000 and $40,000. Attorney Randall Richards questioned the arrest that became a national story based on those results and surveillance video showing his client was the only one who handled the drink.

"These on-site tests are marginally reliable," said Richards, who has previously said the family may file a lawsuit over the arrest. "There are a lot of false positives, and the IonScan is particularly notorious."

The manufacturer, Smith Detention, declined to comment to the newspaper and did not have an immediate comment when reached by the Associated Press on Tuesday.

Assistant City Attorney Steven Garside said that the machines are a solid tool to establish probable cause for an arrest during the early stages of investigations.

A National Institute of Justice study on the ion-scanning technique found a false-positive rate of 2 to 18 percent for marijuana tests in correctional facilities, and found that desktop units can have a high false-alarm rate due to their higher sensitivity settings.


Police reports released to the newspaper in the officer-drugging case show police relied on the test results and surveillance video when they arrested Ukena on suspicion of surreptitiously giving a poisonous substance, a felony.

Police began investigating Aug. 8 after the officer, whose name was redacted from the documents, reported feeling impaired shortly after getting the lemonade. He struggled to find the brake pedal of his patrol car at a red light and couldn't answer questions at the police station.

Ukena agreed to speak to police and denied putting anything in the drink. When officers got a warrant to search his car they found no drugs.

Police say the officer did feel impaired that day, but extensive medical tests have failed to pinpoint a reason why.


Information from: Standard-Examiner,

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